Each year for 40 years, the Ho-Chunk people have honored the nation’s veterans for their service and sacrifice to the country.
That observance is signified with a powwow at Volk Field, a dedication filled with honor of this country’s military personnel, past and present. This year, the 40th Annual Veterans Powwow was held on the actual Veterans Day, November 11.
Approximately 200 people gathered at the powwow to honor the 28 Ho-Chunk men who joined the Wisconsin National Guard to play their part in World War I.
The 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, which continues today as the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered perhaps a mile from the hangar hosting the annual pow-wow.
Bill Miner, Jr., according to Quentin Thundercloud, a member of Descendants of Red Arrow and coordinator of the event, originally started the powwow.
Each of the descendants of the World War I Red Arrow Division were presented with an eagle feather staff by powwow emcee Michael Day.
This year’s event focused on the original 28 men who joined Mauston’s Company D, 3rd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The unit that would become the 32nd Division’s Company D, 128th Infantry Regiment and fight in four major campaigns in France.
Led by the Miner and Decorah families, the men came from the surrounding area to volunteer to fight in the war, although they were not considered citizens and did not have to serve, Thundercloud said.
A meal, silent auction, and dancing was part of the mainstays of the event, along with an important message from a top-ranking military official.
Wisconsin Army National Guard Brigadier General Joni Mathews, as the keynote speaker, provided a message of respect for the sacrifices made by veterans.
Mathews, a member of the Lac du Flambeau band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, urged everyone to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have made for the country.
“Today marks the 99th observance of Veterans Day – or as it was originally called – Armistice Day. For it was Nov. 11, 1918, that the supposed ‘War to End All Wars,’” Mathews said. “2017 marks 100 years since the U.S. entered that war. Of course, we know that sadly, World War I did not end all wars. In fact, it persisted and resulted in an even deadlier global war just 20 years later that claimed the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide.”
The sacrifices made by soldiers work toward keeping everyone safe, although it does come with a price.
“On this Veterans Day, we take the time to honor and remember all those who had the courage and fortitude to swear an oath to serve this great nation. It is the veteran who has fought, sacrificed, and died on our behalf that secures and guarantees the survival of our liberty, our rights and our ideals both here in the United States, and for millions across the globe throughout our history.”
Mathews spoke about a World War I veteran, Captain Paul Schmidt, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, who is one of the central figures in the Wisconsin National Guard’s Dawn of the Red Arrow campaign. That campaign is a two-year project that celebrates the centennial and traces the origins of the Wisconsin National Guard’s famed 32nd “Red Arrow” Division from its formation at the outset of the First World War to the Armistice in November 1918.
“Schmidt’s work is one of the best day-to-day accounts of the 32nd Division’s famed march through France and ultimately into Germany. Ultimately, some 15,000 Wisconsin troops and roughly 7,000 Michigan troops made up the 32nd Division, which by war’s end had earned the nickname, “Les Terribles” from the French for their ferocity in combat,” she said.
“The unit also earned its now-famous moniker, and enduring shoulder patch “the Red Arrow” during the First World War when they pierced every enemy line they encountered, including the vaunted Hindenburg Line, which ultimately broke the Germans’ back in the war,” Mathews said.
The division had lost more than 600 killed in action in the battle and more than 4,000 wounded, but many point to this battle as the war’s turning point. It was here that the German army lost the initiative in the war, and they would never regain it.
The Meusse-Argonne offensive in fall 1918 was the final and decisive campaign in which the 32nd participated, and they once again played a starring role. The campaign, which resulted in final Allied victory did not come without a cost.
After one hour of this shelling, Schmidt was the only company commander left standing in the 1st Battalion. Men all around him were either dead or seriously wounded. The young company commander continued to press on against withering enemy fire.
“’It was impossible for us to advance without being cut to pieces,’ he wrote,” Mathews said. “He and his men dug in as they approached the Hindenburg Line.”
Schmidt and the rest of the 32nd Division eventually broke through, becoming the first Allied division to break through the Hindenburg Line, but by war’s end, the division had suffered more than 13,000 casualties, including approximately 2,250 killed in action and more than 11,000 wounded.
“Men like Schmidt and others who made up the 32nd Division during World War I represent our state’s long and storied tradition of military service. They were seemingly normal Americans at the war’s outset. They hailed from towns all across Wisconsin representing all walks of life …but they were anything but ordinary. They displayed uncommon valor, just as generations of American veterans before them and after they did,” Mathews said.
She thanks the men who made sacrifices, the soldiers who froze through winters in the rugged Korean mountains or battled an elusive enemy in the jungles of Vietnam or faced the blinding sands of the desert in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is thanks to our veterans that our nation lives free every day. It is thanks to our veterans that we have the ability to live in peace, worship, however, we see fit, choose our leaders, criticize our government or openly express our ideas. It is thanks to our veterans that our nation has prospered and we enjoy life, liberty and have the opportunity to pursue true happiness,” she said.
Veterans understand that this freedom that we enjoy is not free, and it certainly does not come cheap. It is borne from sacrifice – whether that is stalled college ambitions, months and years away from family and loved ones, physical wounds, psychological trauma or for those who gave the last full measure of devotion, a willingness to part with their lives.
“So it is for us, all Americans, to ensure that every day, whether we agree with the politics of a particular war or not, that we reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans and honor their service, not just on Veterans Day, but every day of the year,” Mathews said. “And it is up to us, to ensure that our veterans are treated with the dignity and the respect they deserve for their willingness to step into the fire on our behalf so that we may sleep peacefully at night here in America.”
Mathews was presented with a Pendleton blanket and an honor song was sung for her while she led the tribute dance, in devotion to her service and thanking her for her accomplishments as a Native American.