Milwaukee VA pays homage to post-9/11 Veterans - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center

 

Milwaukee VA pays homage to post-9/11 Veterans

wreaths on gravestones

Wreaths and American flags mark the gravestones of three of the seven post-9/11 Veterans buried in Wood National Cemetery.

By David Walter
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The legacy of 9/11 isn’t just the fateful events of that day in 2001 that took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans.

It is also what came after – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military campaigns elsewhere that also took thousands of Veterans’ lives and left thousands more with debilitating injuries – some visible, some not.

On Wednesday morning – a brilliant, sunny day not unlike Sept. 11, 2001 – the Milwaukee VA took a moment to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice since the hijacked planes crashed.

During a solemn ceremony in Wood National Cemetery, wreaths were placed on the graves of seven local service members who died serving their country since Sept. 11, 2001:

  • Spc. Scott T. Nagorski of Greenfield
  • Cpl. Stephen W. Castner of Cedarburg
  • 1st Class Scott J. Brown of Brookfield
  • Spc. Michelle M. Witmer of New Berlin
  • Spc. Michael A. McGlothin of Hartford and Milwaukee
  • Cpl. Adrian V. Soltau of Milwaukee
  • Staff Sgt. Todd R. Cornell of West Bend and Menomonee Falls

“We honor them today – and all of our service members, men and women, who lost their lives serving our country post 9/11,” said Milwaukee VA Medical Center Director Dr. Daniel Zomchek.

It was the events of 9/11 that spurred many to enlist in the military, or to return to active duty, and answer the “clarion call” elicited by the terrorist attacks, said Chaplain Anthony Harris.

chaplain harris
Chaplain Anthony Harris speaks during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

“Many of our young American citizens, male and female, took an oath to stand shoulder to shoulder and resolve to defend this nation,” he said, noting that those who rose to the challenge showed “unselfish, reckless abandon to serve something greater than oneself.”

“We gather here on these hallowed grounds to pay a debt of gratitude to those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “It is with a voice of quiver, a heart of thankfulness, a hand of fellowship and an undying spirit of gratefulness that we remember these men and women who took up arms and defended to the very end. … (They) presented themselves without the thought of turning back, but meeting sacrifice head on.”

In remembering those who died over the past 20 years, Darcie Greuel, who leads the Post-9/11 Military 2 VA Case Management Program at the hospital, said we must also remember those Veterans’ families and continue to provide aid to those Veterans who came home wounded.

“Our team is truly honored and blessed and so dedicated to caring for these Veterans,” she said.

Darcie Greuel places wreath

Darcie Greuel, who leads the Post-9/11 Military 2 VA Case Management Program at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, places a wreath on the gravestone of a post-9/11 Veteran.

To be a Veteran

After a moment of silence and the playing of taps, Milwaukee VA psychiatrist Dr. Michael McBride – who served in both the Army and Navy and deployed several times to the Mideast – reflected on what it is like to be a Veteran.

“You learn to follow orders, because the military protects democracy, but it does not practice it,” he said. “The first thing you realize is that, in the military, you sacrifice your independence, your privacy and your safety. … Every rule is based on someone dying.”

He reflected on the countless service members – many teenagers, all recovering from amputations -- he encountered in a German hospital “sitting by their bedside, hearing their stories of war and trauma,” he said. “These are stories that are still too painful for me to even think about.”

michael mcbride
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael McBride talks about what it is like to be a Veteran.

And it was in a concrete bunker on a base under attack that McBride said he felt the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key as he watched the assault of Fort McHenry in 1814.

“And that was the first time I thought, ‘This is what it must be like to be an American,’” he said.

He remembered the flag-draped caskets being loaded onto airplanes bound for Dover, Del., and the soldiers who made it home alive and physically well, but traumatized by what they had done and seen.

In his work at the VA, McBride said he is “inspired by (Veterans’) stories of recovery and resilience” but also saddened by those turning to drugs, alcohol and suicide.

“I listen to them talk about how hard it is to be a civilian, and how much they want to go back in the military … and about how most days, it’s easier to die than to live,” he said, noting that hearing of a Veteran’s death by suicide or overdose is akin to losing a family member.

“As you walk through a Veterans cemetery and look at every stone, realize there is a sacred story of service, sacrifice and purpose under every stone.

“So what does it mean to be a Veteran? My advice to you: Ask a Veteran.”

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