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Honoring Our Fallen Heroes

On Memorial Day, we recognize and honor those who never returned home to enjoy the freedoms they fought to protect and the communities they sought to improve.

Esther Seidlitz
May 24, 2022

To the men and women of Wisconsin who are dedicating their services to victory in the war and for peace in the future. Theirs must be the possession of great courage, both physical and mental, to carry on the liberal ideals which Wisconsin has given them.

They shall use the Wisconsin “spirit” as a base for the unstoppable impetus which will carry them to the final victory over the foes of their way of living; and as a stepping stone toward the development of a world more perfect than before in its concept of the ultimate truths which bring peace and understanding to all mankind.

Badger yearbooks have documented many eras of the UW’s history, including students’ wartime experiences. The above excerpt comes from the 1943 yearbook’s dedication to all those who left the comforts of hearth and home to defend others and work toward “a world more perfect.” On Memorial Day, we recognize and honor those who never returned home to enjoy the freedoms they fought to protect and the communities they sought to improve.

Memorial Union’s Gold Star Honor Roll lists 913 UW students who died in active combat while serving with the “Wisconsin spirit.” As the yearbook dedication states, they had great courage. With no guarantee of safety or return, these students enlisted to serve a higher cause.

Read through a poem published in the 1919 Badger yearbook while scrolling through a selection of the UW’s wartime images to get a sense of the uncertainty these student-soldiers faced after leaving the comforts of campus.

Home! If they could only know how I dream of it! The old guard would be gone; but my Alma Mater, Wisconsin, will always be there. In pauses in the Big Game, when the night is still, I want the Old Varsity. I dream of her; of all the old sacred things.

Governor Francis McGovern reviews cadets in the university’s training program in front of the Armory on April 22, 1914.

The old Armory, big and black against the sky; where I first learned to know the breech of a gun from the muzzle. I remember the old clock on Music Hall. Time always went too fast in Varsity days.

And I learned more from the white bench above the lake, than from any poetical course the Hill ever gave.

Cadets drill in front of South Hall on Bascom Hill in the late 19th century.

Oh! I’d give an arm to stand up on the hill once more, and see Picnic Point trailing out into the lake!

To stare, through Ag Hall pillars, at Main Hall looming large in the distance. Songs from these big stone steps! I think they’ll ring in my heart forever — or until a Busy Bertha crowds them out.

World War II offered more opportunities for women to officially serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) march together at Camp Randall.

And the dusky cove at sunset seems to be calling to me — calling, until I ache with the longing to be back!

I want to see the glorious, copper after-glow on the still water, and let the silence sink into my very soul. I want to stroll under the willows, around the little bends in the road, until 3 am steeped in a warm contentment.

Family members pin rank insignias onto graduates from UW–Madison’s ROTC programs in a 2016 officer commissioning ceremony.

I want once more to sail all day, with nothing in the world but a white sail, white clouds, blue sky and water, and old, kindly pals at my side.

There is more sunlight on the Drive than in all France. But it is mingled, as here, with shadows — shadows —

And I can never forget it all; the smooth path, the drooping sentinel trees, the quiet lake. I can never forget the golden glory of it; the sweet, mad youth at old Wisconsin.

Graduates from a World War II Navy training program known as V-12 say good-bye to their friends in front of the Kiekhofer Wall that reads “Cheer up, gals! We’ll be back!”

And the girl I left behind me; waiting ’til I come home again.

A detachment of World War I soldiers from Madison bid their families farewell from the train in 1918.

Old singing dreams creep in on me. Sunset — somewhere in France — but all’s well — all’s well!

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