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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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101718frontwarrichaiet.jpg

Signs AB699-Shown from left are Cali Keller, Clyde Bridger, Francis Warrichaiet, Gov. Scott Walker, Melvin Warrichaiet, Vernon Warrichaiet; Rep. John Nygren is in front.

Bridge Officially Named For PFC Valentine T. Warrichaiet

Issue Date: October 18, 2018

On the rainy morning of rainy Friday, Oct. 5, a small group of friends, family and others, including representatives of various Veterans' organizations and State Rep. John Nygren, gathered at the bridge spanning the Oconto River on Hwy. 41 just south of Hwy. 22 to officially dedicate the bridge to the memory of Pfc. Valentine T. Warrichaiet, the only Oconto County citizen killed in action during the Korean War.

Efforts to get the bridge named in remembrance of Warrichaiet began nearly two years ago, at the urging of Major Clyde Bridger, USAF-Retired, who had been a friend and school mate of Warrichaiet, who joined the United States Army in November of 1952, and was killed in the second Battle of Pork Chop Hill in Korea on July 9, 1953. On July 27, 1953, the Korean Conflict cease fire was signed.

Warrichaiet had entered the United States Army in November of 1952, arrived in Korea in April of 1953, and was acting as a squad leader on Pork Chop Hill when he lost his life there three months later, at age 21.

For his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

Warrichaiet was one of 12 children born to Russell and Anna Mary Warrichaiet and raised on the family farm on Maple Grove Road in Oconto County.

Five of Warrichaiet's siblings were alive to see the bridge named in honor of their brother. They are brothers Melvin, who now lives in Coleman and Vernon and Francis, who both live near or in the City of Oconto, and sisters Julianna Strom, of Spencer, and Doris Borkovec, who lives on County A out of Oconto.

Melvin said the entire Warrichaiet family would like to thank each organization and individual who had a part in naming the bridge in memory of his older brother.

He expressed special thanks to Bridger and his friend Barbara Hager of Oconto; State Representatives John Nygren and Jeff Mursau and the entire Wisconsin State Assembly, State Senators Tom Tiffany and Dave Hanson and the full State Senate, Gov. Scott Walker and his office staff for their work in getting the law passed in April of this year officially naming the bridge.

He said the family also greatly appreciates the letters of support from Oconto County Board, Oconto City Council, American Legion Post 74, AMVETS Post 63, VFW Post 3071, Elks Lodge 887, Kiwanis Club and Lions Club, all of Oconto.

All that support did not come without some effort on the part those who wanted to be sure Valentine Warrichaiet would be remembered.

The idea originated with Bridger, who recalled Warrichaiet from their school days as being "a fine, mild mannered young fellow." After Bridger retired from the Air Force and became active in the Oconto County American Legion he realized Valentine Warrichaiet was the only Oconto County native killed in the Korean War. He brought the idea to the Legion, and they were 100 percent in favor, so he approached the remaining Warrichaiet siblings, and they too embraced the idea of having the bridge named for their brother. Melvin Warrichaiet said Bridger would not have gone forward if the family was not in favor.

Melvin said it meant a lot to him, perhaps more so than some of the younger siblings, because they were close in age. "We worked the fields together, we ate together, we dated together, even though he was a couple years older than me."

Melvin and his siblings contacted Representatives Nygren and Jeff Mursau. Nygren authored the enabling legislation and he and Mursau got it through the Assembly. Tiffany and Hanson helped get it passed by the Senate, and on May 3 Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law, with Warrichaiet's brothers, classmate, and friends, including Nygren, present to witness the signing. On Friday, Oct. 5, the signs proclaiming the official new name were installed and the bridge was dedicated.

In their year and a half of efforts to get the bridge officially named, family members personally had gone to Madison to address the Assembly and Senate. They had also addressed Oconto County Board, Town Boards, Oconto City Council and many Veteran's Organizations, all with very active support from Bridger.

Melvin Warrichaiet believes their mother would be particularly pleased to have the bridge named in honor of her lost son. He said she never really accepted Valentine's death, and always cherished the hope that somehow there was a mistaken identity, that the body in the casket that came home from Korea in spring of 1954 was not that of his brother.

Family keepsakes include a letter from a buddy who had been with Valentine in Korea but was not there when he was killed. His parents were not notified at once that Valentine had ben killed, they were told he was missing in action. A few days later they received an unofficial letter from a fellow serviceman saying he had been killed, but Melvin said, "They couldn't, or wouldn't, grasp it." Later they were officially notified that he had been killed. His remains were sent home in a sealed casket accompanied by two servicemen, who stayed with it until the burial.

Melvin believes his parents, his mother particularly, never really had closure, never fully accepted the loss of their son. Years later, shortly before her death, his mother asked him if he would take care of Valentine if he came home. Naturally he promised that he would.

"My mother, to the day she died, always had it in her mind that Valentine would come home some day. She always had hopes."

Despite her disbelief, however, Anna Mary Warrichaiet was a model Gold Star mother. "She always did what ever she could do for Veterans," Melvin said. "She was in all the parades, carrying flags, until she couldn't do it any more." He said sometimes she would manage to carry the flag in as many as three parades in a single day, rushing from Oconto to Abrams, Suring or other communities for their parades.

Yes, she would have been pleased.


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