This is a special weekend - a welcoming weekend that is a long time coming.

And it all starts today, Thursday, Sept. 10, with a welcome parade for the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall and the Canadian Wall that will make its way north along Knowles Avenue starting at about 11:30 a.m.

The parade will highlight the kickoff to a weekend-long event that will feature not only the replica of the Washington, D.C., memorial, but of the Canadian version as well.

As part of the “Stronger Together Operation Welcome Home” event that will take place at Freedom Park Thursday, Sept. 10, through Monday, Sept. 14, on the north side of New Richmond, the welcoming of the walls into New Richmond will take place just before noon this morning.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to line the street in honor of those whose names are on the walls and those who have served.

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Throughout the day Thursday, the walls will be erected in Freedom Park with the opening of displays on-site set to take place at 8 a.m., Friday, Sept. 11.

But before the opening Friday, a silent opening of The Wall will be held at 6 p.m. tonight, Thursday.

When the display opens for public viewing tomorrow, Friday, a number of area schools will transport hundreds of children to the memorial for viewing between the hours of 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and Friday’s scheduled events will conclude with a 9-11 remembrance.

The park will be opened again 8 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 12.

Programs and lapel pins

Saturday and Sunday will have scheduled programs in the afternoon.

On Saturday, a Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs program will include former WDVA Secretary Ray Boland in attendance. Former Secretary John Scocos was initially scheduled to appear in New Richmond, but has since canceled his travel here.

On Sunday, a special program entitled “Our Story” will begin at 2 p.m.

On both Saturday and Sunday, any Vietnam era veteran will be eligible to receive one of the 3,000 Vietnam veteran lapel pins that will be available.

Any veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, are eligible to receive the lapel pin.

According to Scottie Ard, a member of The Moving Wall committee, these pins were scheduled to be formally released nationally to the public this coming November, but through the efforts of the committee, a special allotment was made available for this event.

The event will be officially closed with a ceremony at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 14.

The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours per day with display and event staff on-site between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

County veterans service officers will be on-site and ADA parking will also be available.

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St. Croix county veterans on the wall

The complete list of soldiers from St. Croix County whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall are as follows:

-- Robert Louis Cloutier, Somerset;

-- Thomas Walter Faber, Wilson;

-- Richard Carl Fina, Hudson;

-- Gary Joseph Halverson, New Richmond;

-- James Lewis Hamlet, New Richmond;

-- Vernon Lee Nelson, Glenwood City;

-- Jon Edward Reed, Somerset;

-- Edward Harold Rixmann, Star Prairie;

-- James Aloysius Schachtner, Somerset;

-- Thomas Eugene Severson, New Richmond;

-- Robert Allen Singerhouse, New Richmond; and

-- Kenneth Eugene Smith, Woodville.

Area soldiers names on The Wall

In all, The Wall includes nearly 60,000 names of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Among the names are four from the New Richmond and Somerset areas and several others from across St. Croix County.

The following are stories about a couple of the soldiers from the area who are honored on the wall.

Severson family remembers a hero

By Tom Lindfors

His favorite place to play was a little clump of woods known to local kids as the Alamo.

“New Richmond was a wonderful place to grow up. There was a woods down the hill we used to call the Alamo. We built forts and played army, we had tree houses. there was a pond with an old oil drum that we used as a submarine. That was Tommy’s favorite place. We had the best time of our lives there,” recalled Cheri (Severson) Conrad.

On Tuesday, March 10, 1970, the 1st Battalion, 506 Infantry lost eight men during an attack on their night position. Army Specialist 4th Class (SP4) Thomas Eugene Severson was killed in action that night in Thua Thien, South Vietnam. He was 19 years old.

Cheri was Tom’s younger sister. In addition to his parents, Dick and Wilma, Tom had a younger brother, Bruce and a baby sister Lori, he never got to meet.

According to Cheri, her big brother was everything a big brother could have been in the 60’s. Beside his long hair and affinity for Bob Dylan, Tom had a decent jab that landed him in Golden Gloves.

“He’d kick your butt,” remembered Cheri.

Apparently he also exercised it occasionally in the basement going a few rounds with younger brother, Bruce. For her enthusiasm to participate in the bouts as well, he christened his baby sister Mad Dog.

“Wherever the boys were, that’s where I wanted to be,” said Cheri.

After outgrowing the challenges of the Alamo, Tom and best friend Bernard Hill, expanded their horizons always outdoors, going on camping and canoeing trips, fishing, and of course hitchhiking.

“He and Bernard and Margaret Dean were best friends. They did what kids did back then,” said Cheri.

“I remember my dad driving him to the recruiter’s office. We tried to talk him out of enlisting, but he was determined to go. So they let him go,” said Cheri, “Bernard’s dad wouldn’t sign his form so Tommy went alone.”

Tom’s tour in Vietnam started on Saturday, Oct. 18, 1969. He served as a medic. His buddies nicknamed him “Doc.”

“We initially thought he was in a MASH unit, kind of like on TV. What happened and what they told us happened were two different things. We didn’t know he was out there on the frontline,” said Cheri.

“He wrote home to me and mom and grandma and grandpa pretty regular. He sent me a big birthday card from there. He always promised he was going to bring me a doll and a watch back from Vietnam,” said Cheri.

She remembered it was fall when her big brother came home on his first leave. He taught her his Army marching songs and shared his ration of peanut butter out of a can with his family.   

“I remember he told me how scary it was over there. He would tell me about how he couldn’t trust even the little kids because they would stick you with venom,” said Cheri.

That was the last time Cheri saw her big brother alive.

“I was in school that morning when the military came and knocked on our door. He was buried at Fort Snelling. In our minds, we were all hoping it wasn’t him. A school bus came with a bunch of kids from school back in New Richmond. His best friends were there. It was really special that they thought that much of him and came. It was amazing,” recalled Cheri.

Years later Cheri and sister Lori were able to track down and talk with members of Tom’s unit that were with him on that fateful night.  

“He was very loved by them, he wasn’t alone. They knew him like we knew him,” said Cheri.

To his sisters and the rest of his family, Tom will always be a hero.

“That’s what matters. We still love him and we miss him. We’re so proud of him,” said Cheri.

On the Vietnam War Memorial, Tom’s name is located on Panel 13W Line 107.

Cloutier was first from St. Croix County to die in Vietnam

By Jordan Willi

On May 21, 1966, the Charlie Company was overrun by hostile forces in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. Robert Louis Cloutier, of Somerset, was one of the many Marines who were killed during the assault, including 12 of his friends, while 31 others were wounded the same day.

“He was a member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division,” said Robert’s sister, Becky Cloutier Perkins. “They were nicknamed ‘The Walking Dead’ because of the 800 Marines in the unit, 771 were killed in action. Our brother was the first casualty from St. Croix County.”

According to Cloutier Perkins, Robert, who was the oldest of eight children born to Aurel and AltaBelle (five girls and three boys) enlisted in the United State Marine Corps. right out of high school, at the age of 18. He died just six weeks before his 19th birthday.

“Bobby was a terrific big brother and best friend to many,” Cloutier Perkins said. “He could build anything out of scrap lumber from dog houses, to screen porches, to a giant playhouse for the little kids.”

With John Wayne and Clint Eastwood for heroes, it wasn’t surprising that Robert chose to enter the Marines.

“Bobby had planned to ‘see the world and then come back and raise a family in Somerset,’” Cloutier Perkins said. “From years of shooting small game, he qualified as an Expert Rifleman. He was nominated to attend Officer Candidate School but wanted to get busy and keep Communism from our shores.”

Among the many fond memories Cloutier Perkins has of her brother, there are a few that stick out.

“When he turned 16, he and his best friend turned an old car into a convertible by cutting the top off,” Cloutier Perkins said. “That night it rained and they hadn't considered we didn't have a garage. The car smelled so bad we had to ride with our heads out the window. He built his own fitness gym in the yard to get in shape before he went off to the Marines.”

Although most of her family has not been out to Washington, D.C., to see the Vietnam Wall in person, Cloutier Perkins has been there more than 60 times. According to Cloutier Perkins, Robert’s name is on Panel 7E, line 94.

“It still floods me with a million memories and brings me to tears,” Cloutier Perkins said. “There are hundreds of flowers, medals, photos left every day. And always grown men sobbing for lives lost. It is heart-wrenching to watch older mothers still crying over their lost children.”

With the Moving Wall making a stop in New Richmond for several days, Cloutier Perkins said that most of her family will be coming to see it, as well as some of Robert’s high school friends.

“This is a precious gift. Most of Bobby's siblings and relatives have never been to D.C.,” Cloutier Perkins said. “The Wall has always been a healing place. Somerset lost three young men in Vietnam: Jon Reed, James Schachtner, and Bob Cloutier. This will give all their families, friends, and classmates a chance to heal and celebrate lives served, not just lives lost.”

Although there are many emotions that flood through Cloutier Perkins when she sees her brother’s name on the Vietnam Wall, one quote continues to play through her head.

“This is a special quote I have framed at my house: ‘A veteran is someone who wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America, for any amount up to and including his own life.’ Gene Castagnette, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii,” Cloutier Perkins said.

Just getting the Moving Wall to New Richmond is a huge achievement in Cloutier Perkins’ eyes and she is appreciative to those who helped make it possible for her family to see Robert’s name on the wall as she has many times before.

“We must thank the members of New Richmond VFW Post 10818, New Richmond American Legion Butler-Harmon Post 80 and Chapter 331 of the Vietnam Veterans of America,” Cloutier Perkins said. “The people of St.Croix County can celebrate the service and ultimate sacrifice their relatives and friends have provided. It will be time for old friends to share memories. It has been half a century but it seems like yesterday. We must never forget. Welcome home.”