MOUNT PLEASANT — Sadly, many veterans’ stories are lost or forgotten over the years. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that there were approximately 130,000 living Vietnam War veterans in Wisconsin.
The most recent estimate shows that there may be fewer than 28,000 living veterans of the Korean War in the state. And as of this year, there are less than 11,000 World War II veterans still alive in Wisconsin.
The Case High School Patriot Club is trying to make sure veterans stories live on throughout the years, as they hosted a special dinner and program for veterans Wednesday night at their high school.
The club invited retired Brig. Gen. Dominic Cariello, a Mount Pleasant resident who served in the military for more than 31 years, to be the keynote speaker.
“You veterans put on that uniform, you stood your post, and you did your job and you should always be recognized for that,” said Cariello. “You created history, you made your mark while you served and you inspired others, by inspiring others to emulate you.”
A storied career
Cariello spoke to approximately 30 veterans who served in a number of different wars, including as far back as the Korean and Vietnam wars. Cariello began his military career at the age of 17, as he enlisted in the Army Reserve delayed entry program in 1981. He started his service as a tank armor crewman and was certified as a drill sergeant shortly thereafter.
Cariello has a storied career. He trained and mentored Afghan National Army soldiers and police in Afghanistan. He led a task force in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most recently, he served as the assistant adjutant general for readiness and training with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He spoke about protecting Americans liberties and freedoms at the event.
“We defended this country to give Americans the right to be able to say what they want to say,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for. To allow anyone to run for president or any political office and to be able to say what they want to say because that’s what freedom is all about.”
Cariello is currently the director of manufacturing for Badger Meter. He has been a huge proponent for the Academies of Racine program. He celebrated his 34th wedding anniversary last month and has two children.
Returning from Vietnam
The Racine Area Veterans Color Guard presented the flags at the event, while the Case Master Singers sang the U.S. national anthem and “God Bless America.”
Multiple members of the Patriot Club also presented Veterans Day readings to those in attendance. Mark Petersen, a six-year U.S. Navy veteran and social studies teacher at Case, introduced Cariello at the event.
“As a veteran, Veterans Day is a reminder of what I served this country for and what my brothers and sisters in the military served our country for, and it’s to remember those who went before me and those who are going after me,” said Petersen. “A lot of people forget Veterans Day because many people want to be patriotic on Memorial Day or July 4th, but patriotism is an everyday thing for me.”
David Niesen of Sturtevant was also present at the event. Being a veteran of the Vietnam War, he remembers the problems many Vietnam War veterans went through when they returned back home from the war, simply saying “It wasn’t an easy time.”
Niesen often meets with veterans at the Sturtevant Memorial VFW Post 9948 to reflect on his days in the war.
“It’s just nice to be around some of the people my age who have experienced some of the things I have,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just fun and other times we just cry with each other.”