Wisconsin Man Honors Fallen Heroes By Creating Memorial on His Lawn
Steve Conto is from Menasha, Wisconsin. While not a Vietnam veteran, he has the utmost respect for those who served before him.
More than a decade separates Steve’s service from the brutalities of the Vietnam War. However, that didn’t stop him from recognizing the loss of American heroes who served so courageously before him.
“As a Gulf war veteran, I understood minutely what they had gone through,” he said.
Steve has the idea to build a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in 2013. The process of building one to mimic the original in Washington, D.C. took almost four months.
1,249 names are listed upon Steve’s memorial. The names are service members from Wisconsin who died in the war and those who share a connection with the state in some capacity. His memorial is 64 feet in length. Instead of black granite for the panels, they are made of plywood. The names are not inscribed, but instead on black lapel tape with white lettering. Each of the panels are numbered within close proximity to the line each name is one, distinguishing the order in which they died. And an asterisk is placed next to the names of those listed as missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW).
The message of Steve’s replica is clear. He wants a community to know that those who died were our country’s boys and that they “shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Today, the completed replica stands proudly on his lawn. A sign is staked into the ground and reads: WISCONSIN VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL. In his words, This Wall is dedicated to all of the following:
To all the mothers and fathers who lost a son
To all the brothers and sisters who lost a brother
To the Aunts and Uncles who lost a nephew
For all the sons and daughters that never got to know their dad
For a sister Jay from a farm near Marytown, who lost her brother Robert
For Brothers Dave and Allen from Wilson, who lost their brother Tom
For a daughter Rose from Wisconsin Rapids who lost her dad John
For my neighbor friend Don who lost classmates from Green Bay
For my good friend Mike who lost classmates from Janesville
For Peggy from New Holstein who lost her dad Bill
For Arty who lost her brother Paul
For the families of the 31 MIAs on this wall
For each community and county of our state
For the shipmates and comrades they left behind
For friends and family
For all who come to remember”
As a completed memorial, you can see it on Steve’s front yard two weeks throughout the year – leading up to Memorial Day and the week of Veterans Day.
This year, Steve had close to 100 people visit his replica surrounding Memorial Day. Many were overwhelmed and amazed by its construction. While very emotional, those who saw it were “very grateful” they did.
It is a place for “people to come and talk about who they were and their memories.”
Steve also admits that involving himself in this project has been the most meaningful experience in his life. He owes his direction to the veterans’ comrades, friends, families, and their stories of heartbreak. All of it are beyond words.
Aside from creating a replica of The Wall, Steve has also been devoted to a project called The Final Bridge he began in the spring of 2002. He calls it a personal legacy project. The goal is to”bridge” a connection between the names on The Wall and their final resting places. For more than a decade, he has recorded the burial sites of the Vietnam fallen from Wisconsin. He does this so comrades and loved ones can find them. Since he began, he has compiled a list of his findings, with names of each service member and the towns they enlisted from. Steve has successfully visited 691 sites to date.
In addition to visiting their burial sites, he cleans up and places flags around each area. He has gone through the Virtual Wall and posted the burial location and details for each.
“I will not rest till they are all found and visited,” he has said.
Through both endeavors, Steve wants to make sure communities are aware of these heroes. He just wants to give proper tribute.
Communications Intern Kalli McCoy contributed to this blog.