Dan Erickson was in disbelief when his brother-in-law and sister-in-law told him they sponsored a Legacy Stone for him at The Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville.
“For many years Vietnam veterans didn’t talk about their service,” he said. “I wasn’t treated as rudely as some were when they came back from Vietnam, I wasn’t spat upon, I wasn’t called names like some were, but for many, many years we Vietnam veterans simply didn’t talk about our service. So when my brother-in-law said that he had purchased the Legacy Stone, which I wasn’t fully aware of what the Legacy Stone was, I was dumbfounded.”
A Legacy Stone is a solid granite stone inscribed with the names of people whom someone wishes to recognize and honor. Information on the honoree is also submitted to the Registry Books at The Highground which hold biographies of those whom the stones have been placed. They contain photos, letters, stories, news clips, poems and sometimes thoughts about the honoree.
The stone is then installed at the park.
Robert Toeppe, Erickson’s brother-in-law, said he and his wife sponsored the stone because of what The Highground means to Dan.
“I took a trip with Dan about a year ago ... to The Highground because he goes there occasionally to reflect, and I was so impressed with how it’s set up and how important it was for Dan that I wanted to continue that legacy with our family honoring him,” he said.
The Toeppes also sponsored stones for Robert’s father, a World War II veteran, and Kathy’s father and her brother, a Vietnam veteran.
Erickson felt honored by the thoughtfulness of his in-laws.
“I mean I’m kind of a modest guy; I mean I don’t brag or I don’t talk about things as many veterans don’t,” he said. “So the fact that he purchased it was truly an honor ... it was very heartwarming.”
On June 10 Erickson attended the stone dedication ceremony at The Highground.
It was a wonderful day, Erickson said. All his family was there, including his daughter Sarene Noltner, grandchildren Bret and Haylea Noltner and his great-grandchild.
“The day itself was particularly pleasing for me because ... it was one of the few times that I’ve had my family there from Minnesota,” he said. “So it was an awesome day, it truly was. Awesome is used so frequently to describe lots of things, but for me it truly was ... It was a surprise and it was humbling.”
“(It was) very emotional,” he said. “It did our hearts good to be in a position to be able to do this for those that served − very meaningful to Kathy and I.”
For 21 years Erickson served in the military. He served the first four years because he was drafted and the rest because he enjoyed the military.
Erickson began his military service in the United States Navy in 1965 and ended with retirement from the Army in 1993, even though he was initially drafted into the Army.
“I’m not a gun person, I never had been and ... I couldn’t see myself as an infantry person with a rifle, that’s not who I am — we need them, but it wasn’t me,” he said. “So I thought, ‘I got to do something about this.’ My brother, two years older, was in the Navy, and he was a hospital corpsman. I worked for a hospital at the time in the Twin Cities, St. Martin’s Medical Center as a hospital orderly in surgery, so I thought, ‘Know what? I bet I can be a hospital corpsman just like my brother.’”
Erickson took his draft notice to the local Navy recruiter and asked if there was anything they could do about it. The recruiter said the Army wouldn’t like it but that he was welcome in the Navy.
Next the recruiter asked him what he’d like to do in the military. Erickson said his brother was a hospital corpsman and that he might like to do that.
“He said, ‘Oh, just what we need,’” he said. “That was true, because we were part of the buildup of the troops in Vietnam, so hospital personnel were very much needed. That’s how it happened. I was drafted, but I traded that rifle in for a .45-caliber pistol.”
In 1966 after training at the naval hospital in San Diego for hospital corps school, he received orders for Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, where he trained at the Marine Corps base to serve with the Fleet Marine Force.
For 12 months Erickson served in Vietnam with the first battalion, 26th Marines, first with the Headquarters Company and then Charlie Company, in I Corps of South Vietnam.
After four years of service, Erickson was discharged from the Navy and later served as Monroe County Veterans Service officer. He retained his connection with active military by joining the Army Reserve after he wasn’t allowed to re-enlist in the Navy and Marine Corps.
“I liked the military; I truly enjoyed serving in the Navy and Marine Corps ... unfortunately I was part of the buildup and I was part of the draw down; they wouldn’t let me re-enlist,” he said. “So then when (my wife and I) moved here to Tomah ... I said to my wife, ‘What do you think about me joining the reserves?’ (she said), ‘Yeah, if you’d like to join them.’ So I did. ... That’s how I got involved in the Army Reserve, and that’s how I got activated for Desert Shield/Desert Storm.”
In 1990 Erickson was deployed to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany, helping expand the facility from 300 beds to 1,000 beds in anticipation of significant burn casualties.
Thankfully only 10 burn patients were treated during his time there, Erickson said.
In April 1993 Erickson retired from active reserve status as a Master Sergeant. His decorations and awards received include: The Army Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal – second award, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army reserve Components Medal, with four Oak Leaf clusters, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 device, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal Navy, Good Conduct Medal Army, Vietnam Service Medal with two service stars, Combat Action Ribbon, Overseas Service Bar-2, marksman Badge Rifle M-16, NCO Professional Development Ribbon with number 3, Presidential unit Commendation Ribbon, and the Vietnamese Civil Action Medal first class color with palm.