Dedication planned for tribute wall

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The new Armed Services Tribute in the village of Lake Nebagamon is getting its share of attention.

"I've watched people walk slowly up the sidewalk, right up close to the wall," said Vietnam veteran Howard Levo of Lake Nebagamon. "They're looking for a name that they recognize. It's nice to see that. They're examining the wall. They're very, very curious."

For some, it's a place to reflect.

"We've all been here at times when people who have somebody on that wall or know somebody on that wall come down here and it's like a reminiscing place for them to remember people in their family who maybe aren't here anymore," said Levo's wife, Gail. "It's a good place and I hope it gets the respect forever that it deserves."

For others, it's a chance to learn.

A boy walked up to Gail Levo one day and asked her "What's a vet?"

As members of the committee that spent six years making the tribute a reality, the Levos were glad to see the warm reception it has received.

"I feel real proud of it, to be honest with you," said fellow committee member Willard Kiefer, an Air Force veteran who served during the Korean War.

Saturday at 2 p.m., a dedication ceremony will take place at the wall. Sponsors will be recognized, committee members thanked. Everyone is invited to attend.

The wall is not a memorial, Levo emphasized. It is lined with the names of veterans, both living and dead.

Col. Charles L. Hooker of Lake Nebagamon served in the Union army during the Civil War. Major Richard I. Bong of Poplar earned the title America's Ace of Aces during World War II. Those who served their country in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo are listed among the 163 tiles currently on display.

Members of the National Guard, Reserves and Merchant Marine are also represented.

"It's really a mix of rank and service," Levo said.

The Hildebrandt family wins the prize for most family members on the wall with 11. They're closely followed by Barbara Anderson's family with eight.

"I have my dad and my husband and two sons and his relatives," Anderson said with tears in her eyes. "It's special."

The Lake Nebagamon woman has been part of the tribute committee since its inception in 2011. It biggest challenge they faced was raising the $58,000 needed for the 20-foot wall, which rests beside the Lake Nebagamon Auditorium. The project also included a concrete marker on the corner, handicap accessible walkway, four benches, recessed lighting and footings for additional wall sections, if they're needed.

The cost of the project would have been higher, Levo said, if not for donations from local contractors. He credited local businesses and individuals for contributing to the event, from meat raffles at nearby Bridge's Bar to fundraising plays penned by the late Kay Coletta.

The tribute is something the area has needed, Levo said, and it shows an appreciation for all veterans.

"When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, there wasn't that feeling. There were a lot of protests and stuff like that," he said.

When they got off the airplane at Travis Air Force Base, he said, many of the servicemen changed out of their uniforms into civilian clothes before going out in public.

"I mean, we just fought a war in Vietnam and fighting another war here of sorts stateside is just not right," Howard Levo said, but now "The attitude has changed."

Committee members are often asked how tiles were placed on the wall. For the most part, they said, it was first come, first serve. Those who ordered their tiles first got the top spots on the wall. And family groupings were kept together.

"We've got the Ace of Aces on our wall," Gail Levo said. "He's on the bottom because they have other relatives coming and they moved him around."

Most are Lake Nebagamon residents or have a connection to the village, but that's not necessary.

"My brother of course has a connection, but he's there," Gail Levo said. "He lives in New Hampshire."

Tiles are still available for "any veteran, dead or alive, as long as they're a veteran," Levo said. The cost is $200 per tile.

A new tile order is expected to go out soon, which will add another 24 names to the wall. That will leave room for an additional 50 tiles.

For more information or to order a tile, contact levos@mindspring.com, visit www.lnast.org or Lake Nebagamon Armed Services Tribute on Facebook.