City considers Vietnam War re-enactment
Proposal violates city ordinances
By Angie Landsverk
A request to hold a Vietnam War re-enactment at Waupaca’s Swan Park is on hold while city officials figure out how to address the issue of discharging firearms in a city park.
“There are two ordinances it violates,” City Attorney John Hart said during the Waupaca Common Council’s March 7 meeting. “This would be discharging firearms and firearms not encased in a city park.”
The request first went before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board on March 2.
That board unanimously voted to support the event and forward it to the common council.
However, Hart told the council firearms may not be discharged in the city limits and may not be possessed in a city park, unless they are unloaded and enclosed in a carrying case.
The exceptions related to the ordinance about the discharging of firearms in the city are that law enforcement, licensed firearms dealers and those participating in target practice at a club with a permit may do so.
Ald. Paul Hagen said the council could initiate a change to the ordinances to allow exceptions on a case by case basis.
He was ready to make a motion to support the request to hold the event and combine it with directing Hart to bring an ordinance change forward to the council.
However, Mayor Brian Smith said the changes to the ordinances need to happen first.
The council could discuss that during its March 21 meeting, he said.
If the council agrees to change the ordinances, the first reading could take place during the council’s April 5 meeting and the second reading during its April 18 meeting, Smith said.
“We’re looking at April 18 as being the earliest,” the mayor said.
He noted the council could waive the second reading on April 5 and take action that night.
Hagen wondered why there should be an ordinance amendment drafted if the council is not sure whether the request will be approved.
Ald. Eric Olson asked if there could be a straw poll of those in favor of changing the ordinances, so the re-enactment may be held.
The mayor said the poll would be non-binding.
Six of the nine council members present raised their hands as being in favor of doing so.
Ald. Alan Kjelland was unable to attend the March 7 council meeting and in a March 6 letter to his fellow members of the council, expressed his opposition to the proposed re-enactment.
Eric Percy attended the March 7 common council meeting to present his request to hold the re-enactment on the southwest side of the park’s sled hill on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 26-27.
The 32-year-old Percy has been involved in re-enactments since he was 4 years old.
He proposes highlighting and educating the public about aspects of the Vietnam War, particularly a May 1969 battle at Hill 937 that came to be known as Hamburger Hill.
Percy expects 50 to 70 re-enactors to attend, and the event would be open to the public.
Safety and authenticity checks would be performed each morning of the re-enactment, and each re-enactor would fire blanks.
Each battle would last about 20 minutes, with three scheduled on Aug. 26 and two on Aug. 27.
Nearby city and Farmington residents would be notified before the event.
It would be an alcohol free event.
While Percy’s proposal includes a low admission charge, he told the council there does not have to be an admission charge.
Percy said that in response to a comment Kjelland made in his March 6 letter to the common council.
Kjelland wrote, “A ‘low cost’ of admission suggests that there is a profit motive involved with this event. I definitely would not support an admission charge for this event so that someone may benefit from the sufferings of those of us who still remember events like this. How willing is Mr. Percy to stage this event if there is no admission charge?”
Percy said the admission charge is not to make a profit but rather to cover the costs associated with the event, including park rental and insurance.
Any leftover funds would go toward funding the event in future years, he said.
Remaining funds could also be donated to a local organization, such as the Waupaca Historical Society, Percy said.
As the organizer of the event, it would cost him $500, he said.
“I will put this event on whether there is admission charge or not. I wouldn’t see a dime of it,” Percy said. “This is for the vets. It isn’t about me or the re-enactors.”
Two members of Waupaca’s common council served in Vietnam, and they have different feelings about the proposed re-enactment.
Kjelland described his feelings in a letter.
“Vietnam is still too recent in the memory of those of us who participated in that conflict, and re-enacting ‘Hamburger Hill’ may resurrect memories that we would prefer remain dormant,” he said.
Not all who participated in the war have forgotten the events they encountered during that conflict, and re-enacting them in a violent way will not be a way to thank the veterans but rather an opportunity to remind them of what they went through, Kjelland said.
He also described the opportunity for the public to pick up shell casings after the battles as ringing hollow with him, as “every empty shell casing represents an event where someone tried to kill someone else.”
Kjelland said he did not participate in Hill 937, as he left Vietnam a month earlier.
“However, I did participate in something similar at Hill 837, and I would not want to have that event re-enacted either,” he wrote. “I am supportive of re-enactments of battles that occurred during the lives of people long since passed. They who have passed cannot be reminded of the battles they took part in. If Mr. Percy were proposing a WWI re-enactment or a Civil War re-eneactment, I would not object.”
Ald. Dave Peterson said he was in the area of Hill 937 but fortunately, about 1 1/2 years after it occurred.
He understands why Kjelland has a different perspective and said he is in favor of the re-enactment being held at Swan Park.
Peterson said people may learn from it.
Percy said he has done several Vietnam events the last several years, and others also asked whether it was yet appropriate to hold such events.
“Ninety-seven percent of the veterans who have served in Vietnam who I met have thanked me and hugged me,” he said. “It’s not meant to open wounds. What I have seen is it helps heal.”
Percy hopes to involve local members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in the event.
If the common council approves the event, Percy said he will reach out to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.
Hagen works at the veterans home and said he thinks the event would prompt some of the veterans from that era to open up and talk.
The event’s focus will be on educating the public, Percy said.
“It gives the general public an idea of what our guys have to go through,” he said.