Honoring heroes; from the Civil War to the present

Jake Paltzer has the name of every man and woman from Outagamie County, Wis. who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces from the Civil War through today. He has memorialized them in his county, and now Paltzer, along with members of Vietnam Veterans of America – 351, looks to the future as he helps build a national Education Center dedicated to those lost in the Vietnam War, including his own cousin and a friend.

Paltzer was first inspired in February 1999, as the remains of aviation technician John F. Hartzheim, missing since Feb. 27, 1968, were returned to his family in Appleton, Wis.  Hartzheim was among an eight-person crew on a Navy reconnaissance plane gathering intelligence above the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  While making a low-level pass, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.  Hartzheim was hit when the plane was shot, and was the only crewmember unable to escape from the plane.

Hartzheim’s remains returned to Outagamie County with a hero’s welcome.  The family finally had the closure for which they had longed.  In attendance at his interment ceremony was VFW Post #2778 member Paltzer.

“It struck me that no one remembers who dies from these war periods,” Paltzer said.

Those memories were important to Paltzer.  He joined the Army in 1968.  After basic training, he joined the 101st Airborne.  One month after arriving in Vietnam, Paltzer was on his way to an assault known as Operation Apache Snow.  While travelling to the A Shau Valley, his unit was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.  Wounded, Paltzer was evacuated to Japan.  In the next ten days, over 100 Americans would die during the operation.

Thirty years later, at the interment of Hartzheim, he realized by looking around at those in attendance how quickly the sacrifice of those he served with could be forgotten.  He vowed to make a difference.

Paltzer led a group of volunteers as they began an effort to identify the names of every person from Outagamie County who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  They began with a two-volume roster of the 90,000 Wisconsinites who had served during the Civil War. They arduously scoured volumes of archives of local newspapers.  The queried the records held by the Personnel Records Center of the National Archives.

“It wasn’t easy, but it was enjoyable,” Paltzer said.

A decade later, the group had a complete listing of those who died while serving our nation.  In 2009, the formal memorial was dedicated.  Hartzheim was one of 674 Outagamie residents who were killed in service to our country.

Last year, Paltzer learned of the Faces Never Forgotten program, and he felt it would be the perfect way to honor his cousin who died in Vietnam. The program attempts to locate photographs of each of the 58,282 service members honored on The Wall as well as raising money to fund the construction of the Education Center at The Wall.

The Education Center at The Wall will be a place on our National Mall where our military heroes’ stories and sacrifice will never be forgotten.  It is a multi-million dollar, state-of- the-art visitor’s center and learning facility to be built between the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln Memorials. Visitors will better understand the profound impact the Vietnam War had on their friends and family members, their hometowns and the nation. The Center will feature the faces and stories of the 58,282 men and women on The Wall, honoring those who fell in Vietnam, those who fought and returned, as well as the friends and families of all who served.

Marvin Propson

Marvin Propson, Paltzer’s cousin

Paltzer’s cousin was Spc. Marvin Propson.  Propson entered the Army while Paltzer was still in high school.  He was among 14 American soldiers who were killed on Nov. 1, 1968 when Fire Support Base Rita was attacked near the Cambodian border.  His body was returned to the family in Hilbert, Wis. as Paltzer was entering boot camp.

Paltzer’s friend was Spc. Clifford Taira of Honolulu, Hawaii. Taira and Paltzer were in the same squad; Taira was killed in Operation Apache Snow by friendly fire.

“He heard the Army was going to form a battalion of Hawaiians and they would all go to Nam together. So he enlisted in hopes of joining the ‘Hawaiian Nam battalion’ – which never happened,” Paltzer said.

In his efforts to put together the Outagamie Veterans Memorial in the past decade, Paltzer began to understand the importance of compiling the stories, pictures, and memories of all those who served.

“Each generation . . . we forget what happened before us,” Paltzer said.

His mission continues today as he puts these archival pictures, stories and documents on the virtual Outagamie Veterans Memorial.

Paltzer’s generous donation in memory of his cousin, Spc. Marvin Propson will help ensure that generations to come will understand and remember the sacrifices made by those who are listed on The Wall.