News: Neillsville Highground (Welcome Home Ceremony - 2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Dawson, Pulvermacher, Hilliard, Henline, Harris, Mabie, Barth, Kaufman

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 7/13/2016

Dawson Family to Speak (Welcome Home Ceremony - 2016)

Dawson Family to Speak at Welcome Home Ceremony

By Todd Schmidt and Theresa Hebert

For the past several decades, America has sent men and women in the military to serve in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region. Thousands of these military men and women have lost their lived while serving; thousands more have returned home with physical and psychological scars.

For some, the mental preparedness that kept them and those around them safe during multiple combat tours has hardened and has become a hindrance to resuming relationships and steeping back into their lives at home.

To address these issues and more, The Highground Veterans Memorial Park on USH 10 west of Neillsville is hosting Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home July 19-25.

The Highground officials say this event will have far-reaching and long lasting effects.

During the Welcome Home experience, the men and women who have served and those currently serving will be honored. Families and friends will join together at The Highground to honor and remember the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters in arms who lost their lives on distant foreign soil, along with those whose lives were lost after returning home because of their service.

Each day of the Welcome Home will be filled with ceremonies, displays, speakers and informational booths for veterans, families and all who support them.

The event begins Monday, July 18, with a 250-mile escort of The Wall of Remembrance from Madison. Daily ceremonies will focus on separate combat regions (Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan) and related topics. Welcome Home speakers will include combat veterans, community members and Gold Star mothers and fathers.

Many musical guest artists will be performing free of charge, including Madison Rising, Keith Pulvermacher, Maggie Mae Hilliard and Vets for Freedom.

Special guest speakers include Bobby Henline and Shilo Harris. Henline and Harris both are veterans who were physically wounded during their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They will be speaking to help other veterans and their families cope with difficulties they may be encountering.

Neillsville Mayor Steve Mabie, who is a military veteran, will speak at the opening ceremony Tuesday, July 19. Afghanistan veteran Brian Barth of Neillsville will speak Tuesday, July 19, and Thursday, July 21, Celeste Kaufman, mother of Charles Kaufman, who was killed in Iraq, will participate in the Persian Gulf Tribute Satruday, July 23.

Shane Dawson, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, will speak Friday, July 22. His mother, Lori Dawson, will speak at the Family Day ceremony Sunday, July 24. Lori’s husband Mark Dawson, who served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, will lead the escort of the Wall of Remembrance with his son, Shane, Monday, July 18.

The Dawson family, including Shane’s daughter, Olivia, 2, shared many of their experiences during an interview Friday.

At age 17, Shane joined the Army National Guard. He served from 2006 to 2012, with a deployment to Iraq from 2009 to 2010 with Bravo Battery 120 out of Stevens Point, which was attached to the 32nd Red Arrow Division. He was assigned to prison guard duty.

“We were in charge of guarding detainees, which was a very stressful job,” Shane said. “They had been killing our military brothers and sisters. They would mock us, and we would have to be nice to them.”

A few weeks into the deployment, his company had to help quell a big riot.

“It was super insane,” Shane said. “They started fires and were throwing rocks. Here we were, a bunch of 19-and 20-year-olds, trying to deal with it.”

Rocket fire became an everyday thing. Shane said the closest hit was about 200 ft. from his position.

Shane admits many struggles after returning home from Iraq. He and a number of his buddies decided to get out of the serviced after their six-year hitch.

“I didn’t want to do another deployment,” he said, “My first thought was it was baloney what we were fighting for in Iraq. It really had its ups and downs, and the experience opened up a new set of eyes and ears for me. Serving in the military shaped me into the person I am today.”

Shane continues to struggle with here and now thinking. He said scenarios such as fireworks before July 4 are difficult to deal with.

“I still freak out a little bit in public,” he said. “I am not having anxiety attacks anymore.”

Shane said he “was all over the place” after his honorable discharge in 2012. He tried taking college classes but dropped out because he couldn’t stay focused. He worked at a treatment facility for juveniles and was employed for a while as a guard at the Stanley Prison.

“Mentally, I was a guard there,” Shane said. “It brought back a lot of bad memories. Many days I would come home from work really angry.”

He is now employed as a loss prevention specialist for Shopko Hometown in Lake Hallie.

Shane credits The Highground’s healing process with keeping his life on track.

“The Vet Center counselor helps a little bit,” he said. “The whole environment at The Highground helps me see the bigger picture.”

One of his favorite experiences at The Highground is participating in the Talking Circle. Olivia has become a favorite there, sharing hugs and flowers with appreciative veterans and family members.

“We are able to share many experiences during the Talking Circle,” Shane said. “One guy said he had to kill a threatening child. That haunts him every day. A Vietnam veteran came for the first time and really opened up. He has been carrying this ghost around for a long time.”

Shane said it is a good for the community and other service members to see what the healing process does at The Highground.

“Overall, I am proud of my service to my country,” Shane said. “It is a job many others are unwilling to do. I am not a hero.”

Lori had experienced military deployment on two different levels. Mark served in the U. S. Army from 1986 to 1991 and in the Army Reserves until 1994. He was sent overseas in Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield from Jan. 1990 to May 1990.

When Mark was deployed, Lori remained home to care for their three children, ages 3, 2 and 8 months.

“Our daily life had to go on,” Lori said. “I had to sound like there was nothing wrong. I guess I did what I had to do.”

Lori found comfort in writing a letter to Mark every day and sending packages often. She became upset when she discovered he wasn’t receiving the mail on a regular basis.

Mark served as a mechanic, working on light wheel vehicles. His division also built roads and airstrips in the sand.

The unit had been there less than a month, when a huge boom woke them up. A Patriot Missile had shot down an enemy Scud missile. The soldiers mustered fast due to the potential of a gas attack.

“Loud booms still upset me to this day,” Mark said. “The general public doesn’t realize how stressful that can be.”

The troops had to take pills to enhance the antidote to nerve agents. As a result, Mark said many cases have been documented of Gulf War Syndrome. They were housed in tents and had to deal with sand in everything all the time.

He decided he had to get out of the service, mainly due to the stress on the family. Four months after his honorable discharge, his unit was sent to Somalia.

“I suffered a sense of remorse and detachment,” Mark said. “In the military, we have each other’s backs. However, I was proud to have served my country. I had a positive attitude. It was a good thing.”

Lori made big signs welcoming her husband home. She said one of the toughest transitions was realizing she didn’t have to do things herself anymore. One of her oddest memories was a family shopping day.

“We were putting the kids in the car,” she said. “I was buckling up one of them. I looked over and I didn’t see Mark. He was lying under the car. He heard a car horn honk, which is a signal in the military of an attack coming.”

When he first came home, Mark said he didn’t feel like he was needed.

“Lori told me she didn’t need me, but she really wanted me,” Mark said. “That helped a lot.”

Their son, Keith, is a member of the Army National Guard. His unit has never been deployed overseas.

Lori said Shane’s deployment was the most difficult for the family.

“He was gone every day, and there was nothing we could do,” she said. “He was able to call home more often than Mark was able to. People just don’t realize the sacrifices that soldiers and their families have to make.

“I didn’t feel like I did anything special. They signed on the dotted line and said they would protect us.”

Lori said it was tough for the family when Shane came home.

“Every night, Shane would wake up screaming with nightmares,” she said. “We felt helpless. As a result, his younger brother and sister had stress induced problems.”

Part of Shane’s recovery from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was participating in the Talking Circles at The Highground. During a recent speech at The Highground, Shane said he thought many times about killing himself.

Shane and Mark now participate in the Honor Ride every Memorial Day. They drove the two lead escort motorcycles for the Wall of Remembrance when it came to The Highground in 2014, and will do so again July 18.

Mark said he rode his motorcycle down by the Persian Gulf Bootprint a few weeks ago, after all the statues had been placed.

“It was a very moving experience, Mark said. “It is a nice place to go and reflect how good life actually is. I sat down on a bench. Birds were flying overhead and I could see the backside of the Vietnam Tribute. I felt like I had come full circle.”

Mark said a lot of younger people were coming to The Highground to show their respect for veterans.

“I can’t believe the great job volunteer general manager Kirk Rodman and the board of directors has done building up the place,” Mark said.

“Another amazing thing about The Highground is the fact it has never been vandalized,” Lori added. “It is a sacred spot people really take care of.”

The Persian Gulf Tribute will be dedicated Saturday, July 23, A Family Day, Sunday, July 24, will feature many free activities, including inflatables for kids, a family picnic and a movie on the big screen at dusk.

Notable displays during Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home will include the 2016 Schneider “Ride of Pride truck, the “Fallen Angel” tribute truck and “A Face for Every Name.” The Highground’s big maps of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Vietnam War will be featured, along with the Field of Flags.

Photography services and many exhibits by organizations serving veterans will be offered. Vet Center counselors will be available.

Detailed information about Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home can be found at and on Facebook at memorial/. For more information contact The Highground at 715-743-4224 or via email at

A veteran pays his respects at The Wall of Remembrance displayed in 2014 at The Highground. The Wall of Remembrance will be escorted to The Highground Monday, July 18, and will be featured during Operation Welcome Home Persian Gulf scheduled July 19-25. (Contributed photo)




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