'We'll continue to have a place here for a very long time': The history of Wisconsin's oldest veteran's cemetery

NOW: ’We’ll continue to have a place here for a very long time’: The history of Wisconsin’s oldest veteran’s cemetery

KING, Wis. (CBS 58) – This year, Wisconsin's oldest state veteran's cemetery marks its 136th anniversary.

"He passed away that day and was buried the same day. That was the beginning of the Central Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery," Andrew Whitman said.

Andrew Whitman is the Cemetery Director for the Central Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery began in 1888 with the burial of a man who fought in a war that shaped the United States forever.

"His name was Issac Baker," Whitman explained. "He was buried on June 17, 1888. He's a Civil War Veteran, and he was in the 5th Wisconsin infantry in the Union Army."

Almost a century and a half later, the cemetery is still standing, giving thousands of veterans and their families a place to rest. For Whitman, making sure those who visit get a proper ceremony is close to his heart.

"My grandparents are buried here as well," he said. "It's [people's] final chance to say goodbye to a loved one, and for me to kind of have gone through that, it really helps me understand that."

The massive grounds located in Waupaca County are spotless and pristine thanks to the people who take care of it.

"It's nice for me because I'm a veteran myself," Building and Grounds Supervisor Bill Kuckkahn said.

Kuckkahn and his team of groundskeepers work year-round to keep the cemetery clean and well-groomed. Kuckkahn has worked at the cemetery for 10 years, and his job there has given him a new outlook on his own time in the military.

"It kind of gave me more of an appreciation for what I did, too," he explained. "Because, you go in, and you come out, and say, 'Oh, I served my time,' and you kind of lose touch with that. But getting back with these Veterans, it's like they really sacrificed a lot, you know?"

People from all over visit the cemetery to take in the history etched on each tombstone, including that of one of only 3,517 Medal of Honor recipients: Theodore Goldin. Goldin was still alive when he was bestowed the military's highest award of valor in 1895.

"[Goldin] earned his medal of honor by being part of a group of individuals, who under Indian fire, went out and got water and brought it back to some wounded soldiers," Whitman explained.

There is also a dog that served in World War II buried at the cemetery.

"Brownie is our most visited [grave]," Whitman said. "He is the only dog buried in a state Veterans cemetery right now."

In 1943, Brownie the K9 was sent overseas to serve his country. After being honorably discharged, he retired back to King, where he became a friend to all.

"In 1949, unfortunately, he passed and was brought here and buried with full honors," Whitman said.

But, no matter their story, every veteran here is important. Each year, they have their shining moment on Memorial Day.

"We're talking about all these people that are buried here, just remembering them each year. The sacrifices that they made, the honor that they've given to our country," Whitman said.

With people like Whitman at the helm, there is still a lot of history to be made here.

"This is my way, I always say, to give back to the Veterans and their families. Just to see how important it is to the families that their loved one was a Veteran and hearing what they went through and hearing the stories," he said.

At Central Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery, Whitman says they are always honored, thanked, and welcome.

"We place here for Veterans to be buried, and we'll continue to have a place here for a very long time," he said.

To learn more about the cemetery, click here.

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