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Elk Mound veteran urges visit to The Highground

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ELK MOUND — Butch Jensen believes everyone should visit The Highground Veterans’ Memorial Park near Neillsville.

Jensen, a Vietnam veteran and a resident of Elk Mound, was honored at The Highground July 13 with a Legacy Stone ceremony arranged by his family.

“We need to get the word out. People don’t know what (The Highground Veterans’ Memorial) is … It’s a place to go and meditate. It’s a calming place. It’s a healing place,” he said.

The 148-acre veterans’ memorial park, which is funded by private donations, contains a variety of memorials to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and soon Iraq and Afghanistan.

Family members purchase the Legacy Stones, and the money is used to maintain the park.

Butch’s wife, Denise, says she cannot get over the amount of thought, time and effort that has gone into designing the park.

One example is The Dove, an effigy mound built from soil from all 72 counties in Wisconsin, from many of the states, from North Vietnam and South Vietnam and from 18 other countries.

“It is a veterans’ park that focuses more on healing and education. There are no weapons or tanks or planes. They focus on healing and education. It is an awesome place,” Denise said.

“The Legacy Stone ceremonies are so ceremonial and meaningful and emotional, it is unbelievable. The staff is outstanding. They greet every veteran and thank him for his or her service. They start the ceremony with the tolling of the Liberty Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell. They laid 23 stones on the day we were there,” she said.

The Legacy Stone ceremony involves the veteran and his or her family members.

The Jensens’ daughter-in-law arranged for a Legacy Stone for her father several years ago and was instrumental in arranging the stone for Butch.


The Legacy Stone memorial “is a V shape, and both sides are already full. Now they are coming down the center. There are a lot of them. It’s World War II veterans. It’s Vietnam. It’s Korea,” Butch said.

“It’s for any veteran. Any family member (can arrange for a stone),” he said.

“We surprised him. He didn’t know we were doing this until we got there. One of our grandsons is in the Cub Scout troop from Elk Mound. They presented the flag. Four of our other grandchildren led the Pledge of the Allegiance,” Denise said.

“They mix a little vial of sand from this ceremony with sand from a previous ceremony, and then they pass it on to the next ceremony,” she said.

“Each memorial is very symbolic,” Denise added.

“The Vietnam memorial is the only one (with a woman), and under her cape are bundles of (wind) chimes, and each chime has the name of a Wisconsin veteran who died in Vietnam. And on the rifle is an orange stone that symbolizes Agent Orange to symbolize the ones who died after they got home. It is all so symbolic,” she said.

“There is a Fountain of Tears (where there is a statue) of a Vietnam veteran holding the dog tags of his dead comrade. The fountain symbolizes the tears that run down into a pool where there is his wife and child, and she is holding the flag. They put a lot of thought and effort into designing the memorials,” she said.

“The Vietnam veterans were spit upon when they came back. They were not honored anywhere. Now (Butch) has a couple of hats that say ‘Vietnam Veteran’ and when he wears those, invariably, someone will say, ‘thank you for your service,’” Denise said.

Military family

“We come from a military background. His dad was in the service. My dad was career army, World War II, Korea, and finished in the National Guard. I should have known what I was getting into when I married an Air Force man,” Denise said with a smile.

“Three months after we were married, he got his orders for Vietnam, and I found out I was pregnant. I gave birth while he was gone. I have a brother-in-law who is retired Navy. I  have an ex-brother-in-law that is retired from the National Guard. I have a nephew who is going into the army next summer. It’s a long line of military … I grew up an army brat,” she said.

Butch Jensen served four years active in the United States Air Force and then served in the National Guard for 11 years.

“He never really wanted to talk about his time in Vietnam. Then we took a trip to Dayton, Ohio, and stopped in the Air Force Museum, and he got enthused about that. When we got home, we collected all of his military stuff from here, there and everywhere and put it in this scrapbook. We finally have a scrapbook of his military service … it’s been 45 years,” Denise said.

“When I went to Vietnam, military people could get a free newspaper. So I got the Colfax Messenger. It was good because I knew a lot of people around here. I was born and raised in the area. It was good to know what was going on around home … it was the only thing, besides letters, that helped me keep up on the neighborhood,” Butch said.

“War has changed. It is more high tech now,” he noted.

“Many Vietnam vets came back addicted to drugs. (The recent veterans) are coming back with mental illness. Did I hear it right? More vets kill themselves than were killed in the Middle East,” Denise said.

According to a New York Times article published in April of 2012, a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed every day and a half on the battlefield, while veterans here die by suicide one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides occur each year, which is more than the number of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan for the duration of the war.

High ground

“He probably would not have gone if we hadn’t tricked him into it. Our grandson is in the (Cub Scouts) color guard, and we had it all planned. All five of our grandchildren kept it a secret for months and months,” Denise said.”

“It’s one of those deals where I’ve been by the place three or four times traveling. This was the first time I’ve ever stopped … the thought that went into these displays is phenomenal,” Butch said.

“They named it the Highground. And you are up high. That was always the military’s thought, to get on high ground,” he said.

“They started out calling it the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. Then it became known as The Highground,” Denise said.

“That probably came from the veterans. They always wanted to take the highground. Even if you don’t have somebody there, you should go see it … all the aspects. It’s really interesting. It really opens your eyes up to a lot of things. More people should see it,” Butch said.

Elk Mound

Butch Jensen went into the air force in 1965. He grew up on a farm, went to grade school at Knapp Settlement and went to high school in Elk Mound.

Denise Jensen also graduated from Elk Mound High School. She retired from food service in the Elk Mound School District last year and is the former owner of D.J.’s Cafe in Elk Mound.

Both of their children went to school in Elk Mound (Wendy Jensen Erdman and Shawn Jensen) and now all of their grandchildren are attending school in Elk Mound.

“It’s important to get the word out that (The Highground) is a place for healing,” Butch said.

“It’s not a war memorial. It is a veterans’ memorial,” Denise said.

“There is no government funding. It is all volunteers,” Butch said.

“Someone said there was a guy who came there who was in the North Vietnamese Army. He said, ‘yes, we have a lot of unknown soldiers, and a lot of missing yet.’ They are going through the same thing as we are,” he said.

Every year, a bicycle ride generates donations for the park.

“That’s how Tom Miller started to get funds, and they’ve been doing it every year since,” Denise said.

“These guys are my age. They are close to 70. They are looking for younger people to help carry it on,” Butch said.

“It all started with Tom Miller. He held his mortally wounded friend as he died (in Vietnam). And when he got home, he said he was not going to let his death be forgotten. It took years and years before he could get anyone interested … it took from ’65 until ’88 to get anyone interested, and then it was just one person at a time. (Eventually) they ended up with eight on the board to get it started,” Denise said.

The Highground Veterans’ Memorial is three miles west of Neillsville on U.S. Highway 10. The park is lighted and is open to visitors all year, 24 hours a day.

Legacy Stone ceremonies are scheduled each month from now until October.

For more information, contact The Highground at (715) 743-4224.

If you would like to make a contribution to help with the design and maintenance of The Highground, you can send it to The Highground Veterans’ Memorial Park; W7031 Ridge Road; P.O. Box 47; Neillsville WI  54456.