Last week, the Stoughton Area Veterans Memorial Park committee had the names of 5,570 veterans with area ties.
This week, it has 5,571, after one of the more “unusual” ways of updating the list for Roger Kleven and Basil Sadler. The two have led the monumental mission to find as many names of area veterans as they can to inscribe on the memorial.
“Two days ago, we found a guy, a Vietnam veteran who we missed,” Kleven said. “He had moved to Arizona, and his brother came back here for his funeral and happened to stop by the park when I was there.”
Unusual, perhaps, but for Kleven, it’s exactly the reason that so many people spent so much time and effort to build the Stoughton Area Veterans Memorial Park, which sits at the corner of County Hwy. B and Country Club Road in Pleasant Springs. Site work started in late 2015, and after a $1 million fundraising effort, the park was dedicated Oct. 14, 2017.
The list dates back to the War of 1812, including 176 killed in action, and Kleven said the goal is to keep pushing for more.
“You just keep getting the word out,” he told the Hub this week. “It’s going to be an ongoing process, and our goal is to leave no leaf unturned, so to speak.”
Kleven, a 1959 Stoughton High School graduate who served in the Army National Guard in the 1960s during the Berlin Crisis, is a long-time member of Stoughton’s American Legion Post 59. A few years ago, he was flipping pancakes and listening to a former classmate and National Guard member talk about getting a group together to “see if we can’t build a memorial in Stoughton.”
They kept talking, and got more and more veterans involved until a core group of around 10 formed a steering committee, with Duane Broughton and Bud Erickson taking lead roles in the park’s design and fundraising. Kleven said it was important for the park to have an “educational” theme, and the group incorporated that into the design.
“We wanted to have our centerpiece, a modern ‘Gold Star’ list for the people who lost their lives in the service, and also list everybody who served,” he said. “That was started right at the get-go when we decided what we wanted the park to look like, and that was quite an undertaking.”
Kleven had done some genealogy work for his family and volunteered to help find the names. He was quickly joined by Sadler, who helped with the “computer aspect,” and the two spent countless hours researching.
Unfortunately, finding veterans’ names isn’t as easy as it may sound, due to strict privacy laws.
“We couldn’t just call the Army and say, ‘Hey, we want to know everyone in the army from Stoughton Wisconsin from this date to this date,’” Kleven said.
Also, some veterans currently serving “have a hard time finding us,” he said.
So the two ended up working heavy hours to get as many names in place for the dedication.
“It was pretty much five days a week, every morning, doing research,” Kleven said. “The senior center has a lot of old Hubs, we went through the old VFW and Legion membership cards going back to World War II, we went to the library, there were some old books and clippings from newspaper articles, photographs… a board that listed all the people who were in the service.”
They even spent time walking area cemeteries, looking for someone they might have missed, or misspelled. Once they found names, they often had to do some extra research to verify spellings.
“You might find some ‘Hansens’ with an ‘en’ or an ‘on,’ or ‘Johnsons,” he said. “So we did a lot of name ‘purification’ – we had to purge as we went through to make sure we didn’t end up with duplicates, and verified everything. Now, the list appears good.”
While the group is finding fewer names in recent years, Kleven said they’ll keep trying to add as many as they can, though he thinks they’re “probably close” to getting that number.
“That was our vision when we started, and once we got on that path, we wanted to make sure we got everybody,” he said. “Last year, we added 54 names, this year 6, so it’s trending down, but to this day, we still are finding people who were in Stoughton.”
In the meantime, Kleven said he hopes the community enjoys and makes use of the memorial park, and not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. He said the names listed there – both the veterans who served and those who died – are worth remembering.
“You look at the veterans who served in any of the wars, what they went through, all the sacrifices these people made, we just can’t let that go,” he said. “They have to be remembered, and I think our project did a good job in doing that.
“It’s a place where people can go and visit and see the people who served and find out the history.”