The Highground Veterans Memorial Park: A Place for Peace & Solemnity

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:40 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - “It’s very meaningful from the aspect of memorializing and honoring veterans throughout our history.”

Coming from a family with a long lineage of military service, The Highground Veterans Memorial Park just west of Neillsville is a sacred place for Osseo native and Navy veteran Pam Graham.

“When you drive up here you immediately feel that peace and solemnity, all the different wars and conflicts we’ve served in, the monuments down there, the falling tears. You just have to understand and you can by just looking at those the magnitude of loss that someone might feel and it makes you appreciate the sacrifice that people have made to help keep freedom in our country,” says Graham.

The Working Dog Memorial is one of the newer memorials at The Highground and holds a special place in Graham’s heart. While Pam’s nice Kara served as a working dog handler in Bahrain in the Middle East, her husband who also served as a military dog handler in Afghanistan was killed in action from an IED device.

“Remarried to one of her friends who was also a working dog handler and after they left the Navy, continued to train dogs. To me it’s a service that is not well known,” explains Graham.

Graham says the dogs are so much more than a pet, they are their partner and friend.

“They were joined at the hip the whole time, she would be out at her location taking a rest break and her dog would be laying on the ground and she would be using him as a pillow. They were side-by-side all the time and if they lost a working dog it was like losing a fellow soldier because that’s what they are,” says Graham.

“The last tour was a year-long in Iraq and he knew that he had enough before he went. But it was his duty to go and he went.”

For Linda Brey and Kari Marine, their memories of their son and brother Don are filled with a young man who loved his family and his country.

“As soon as he got back he struggled with post traumatic stress and he asked for help, he got help, eventually the war won, it took over it never left,” says Linda.

Don Marine was a patriot. After graduating from Neillsville High school in 2000, Marine would go on to serve five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 82nd Airborne before he was honorably discharged in 2008. After returning home, Don like to many veterans struggled with PTSD.

“He said he couldn’t take the pain anymore.”

Don passed away on January 21, 2016, leaving behind his wife and seven-year old daughter.

“And it was one week before that he went to the V-A for a wellness check that he was asked if he had suicide ideation, and he said no. And I believe that he didn’t that day but it shows just how unpredictable it is for these veterans and that’s why at The Highground we encourage support groups so they know they’re not alone,” adds Brey.

The Highground held their first family PTS support group in May. Veterans and their loved ones needing a place to share their fears as well as learn from others who are going through the same struggles, who have “been there.” Kari works for TAPS, a military survivors helpline.

“I know it takes a lot of courage to come to a support group. I know how much I struggled to reach out to get help so I know it’s hard for them. We reached out to TAPS and got involved and immediately we knew that we weren’t along in our grief journey,” says Linda.

Linda and Kari visit The Highground often. There’s a memorial for Don at the Persian Gulf Tribute. The sand-colored stones form a boot print, recalling the impression our veterans have had on this world. A safe haven for all to reflect and heal.

“It’s so beautiful and peaceful. And a place to reflect, a reflect on our loss and also on our gratitude, so we have to find things to be grateful for, even though it’s every parents nightmare to lose a child.”

The Highground Rising Campaign has raised $1.54 million dollars in donations and pledges for the new 12,000 square foot Welcome and Visitor Center. The tentative plan is to break ground in the spring of 2023.

If you would like to donate, click here at The Highground Rising Capital Campaign

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