Wisconsin Veterans Tell Their Stories

Shepherd Express
DAVID LUHRSSEN

Mark Concannon wasn’t thinking about a book when he sat down in 2012 and began interviewing veterans. A longtime broadcast journalist familiar to Milwaukee television audiences, Concannon was tapped as the interviewer for the War Memorial Center’s Veterans Story Project, an effort to preserve the stories of Milwaukee area vets as a video archive.

The project led to a set of three documentaries, “Mettle & Honor,” for Milwaukee PBS. Culling from all 59 interviews, Concannon edited his conversations with veterans into a book, Mettle & Honor: Wisconsin Stories from the Battlefield.

“The World War II guys came first,” Concannon says, explaining that he worked his way forward through Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each war had its own set of emotions. “The World War II folks were incredibly humble. They didn’t think being at Iwo Jima was any big deal—and of course it was!” he says. “The Korean War veterans also had a sense of duty but felt they were forgotten. Many of the Vietnam veterans felt vilified when they came back. Some of the Afghanistan and Iraq vets were kids when 9/11 happened. They felt they had to be there.”

Concannon found the legacy of wartime trauma in some interviews. A Vietnam veteran recalled putting a Vietnamese kid in his gunsights during an incident on the perimeter of his base—and stopping himself before pulling the trigger. The fact of coming so close to killing the boy “left him so traumatized, he never felt able to become a parent.”

Many of the stories collected in Mettle & Honor tell of unassuming courage and endurance. One was related by a Milwaukeean who became a POW during World War II. He was down to 70 pounds when liberated. “He didn’t make anything of it,” Concannon says. “He felt that serving was just something he had to do.