Andrew Reuter
Franklin Middle School seventh grader Claudia Fieiras sings the National Anthem during a Veterans Day ceremony in Traxler Park in Janesville on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Stories of loss, peace, sacrifice at Janesville Veterans Day ceremony

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Shelly Birkelo
November 11, 2015

JANESVILLE—Tracy Puntney walked on the engraved bricks at the Medal of Honor Walkway in Traxler Park before the start of the Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday.

The Vietnam veteran and Janesville native was trying to identify a Janesville Marine he'd crossed paths with on a hospital airplane to Danang some 47 years ago.

“I'm ashamed I didn't ask him more questions on the half-hour flight. I was in such a hurry to get back but can't remember why,” said Puntney, 68.

“I don't remember him telling me his name, but he told me he was a Marine."

Puntney said the wounded Marine had stared at him with one eye—the only thing not bandaged on his wounded head.

“He told me: 'I know you. I rode the school bus with you,' ” Puntney recalled.

He hadn't recognized the Marine, however.

“It was just a passing thing. You did not want to ride that plane,” he said.

Still, Puntney wonders what happened to the Marine.

After he explained his dilemma to members of the local Vietnam Veterans of American chapter, they made some inquiries and might be able to help Puntney find an answer.

“I put it off, then would remember, put it off and remember. So I came today to see if he made it, can find him and talk to him,” he said.

Wednesday's event was the first Veterans Day observance Puntney had attended.

“My last six months (in Vietnam) was burial detail, so I'm not big on the ceremonies," Puntney said.

Still, he put aside those feelings and was among about 300 who showed up to recognize veterans who honorably served their country during the Janesville Patriotic Society's program at Traxler Park.

They were treated to a song, “You Are Our Heroes,” performed by St. Mary School students and heard Iraq War veteran Adam Dassow's speech, “Not for Nothing,'' in a brisk breeze under cloudy skies.

“I am sure most of you know that this day evolved out of Armistice Day. It went from a day to celebrate those who served in one war to honor all those who have served and are still serving,” Dassow said.

“I don't know that there's anything I can say about service to the veterans here that would be enlightening or new … we took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies," he said.

"We protected people from tyrants and dictators. For however short a period of time, we showed people what it meant to be free. And even if our efforts seem futile now, it is not yet finished. And that is why it is imperative that we remain vigilant in defense of what we swore to defend: the American idea,” he said.

Before the ceremony, The Gazette asked several people whom they were honoring by attending the ceremony.

—Leanne Lippincott-Wuerthele, 70, Janesville: “I came to honor three people today,” she said.

They include her late husband, Dennis Lippincott, an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War; her son Jay Lippincott, who joined the Navy in 1994 and was a crewman on a P-3 Orion sub-hunting aircraft and now works in Afghanistan for a private company; and her current husband, Fred Wuerthele, who served in Vietnam.

“We take our freedom and sacrifices for granted,” Lippincott-Wuerthele said.

She was attending a Veterans Day ceremony for the first time.

“When I see a veteran, I always shake their hand and thank them for their service. It was time to do something besides shaking hands,” she said.

—Neal Fletcher, 51, Janesville: “I came to honor all the veterans all the way back to the beginning of our country, particularly World War II vets because there are so few left,” he said.

“That generation is almost gone now, and we owe them so much."

Fletcher served in the Navy from 1982 to 1986.

—Joanne Schudda, 63, Janesville: “I came to pay homage to my uncle Gerald Endl and father, John Goethe, both World War II veterans, plus my husband, Doug Schudda, who was in the Navy during Vietnam from 1972 to 1976,” she said.

“It's important to honor these men today who served our country and just to remember with gratitude and memories,” Schudda said.

The day affected Shudda emotionally.

“I put my hand on my uncle's monument,” she said, “and it gave me peace.”

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