Speaker urges crowd to ‘start listening’

Oconto Falls hosts annual community salute to those who have served
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Students at Oconto Falls High School and local veterans heard a message of unity Nov. 10 from the son of the last soldier killed during the Vietnam War.

Col. William Nolde died as the result of artillery fire near An Loc on Jan. 27, 1973, just 11 hours before a truce took effect in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords. He is listed as the last official American combat casualty of the war. Byron Nolde, chief executive officer of Oconto Electric Cooperative, is second-youngest of William and Joyce Nolde’s five children, four sons and a daughter.

He shared with the Oconto Falls audience about an eerie feeling he had that January day before his uncle and aunt came to the door with the news about his father, a career military man who had served in Korea and was wrapping up his third tour of duty in Vietnam.

Because of the unique circumstances, William Nolde was honored with a funeral procession in Washington, D.C., and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His son shared a memory of meeting with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.

“We were headed into the office, and he had an aide come up to him and say, ‘Sir, you have 15 minutes with the Nolde family,’” Byron Nolde said. “He cut the individual off right away and said, ‘I will decide how long I will talk to the family,’ and that was it.” The visit lasted more than an hour, and the president talked individually with each member of the family, he said.

He turned to the local veterans, who were assembled in front of the podium, and told the students they deserve everyone’s thanks.

“Think about this: All these vets out here that have served, whether they served in peacetime, conflict or war doesn’t matter,” Nolde said. “They all went with that same attitude. They knew they could be called upon to make that ultimate sacrifice.”

He described his mother as “a tough lady, an awesome person,” who was thrust into a position where she had to deal with national attention and the press and handled it all with dignity and strength.

“My mom was a Methodist, my dad was a Catholic, and when they got married that was a tough thing back then,” Nolde said. “But those are the freedoms that those individuals fought for. You know, you’ve got the freedom to marry who you want, live where you want, and go where you want, and that’s just to name a few.”

Nolde’s talk was about “God, country and family,” which he said his father often talked about. God or religion gives us a moral compass, defining right from wrong, and veterans’ willingness to sacrifice for the country helps make it strong, he said.

He likened the military and the Oconto Falls community to a family and said that families may fight but ultimately respect, love and listen to one another.

“We’ve always had disagreements, that’s OK to disagree, but the biggest thing we all have to do is start listening,” Nolde said. “Listen to the other side, listen when something’s being said. What made America great is two sides would argue and state their case, and then they came together on usually a better solution, because one side or the other isn’t exactly right. When you listen and combine and make the right changes, you come up with the best solution.”

OFHS principal Stuart Russ opened the proceedings by saying veterans are owed “a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay,” and he urged the students to learn from the veterans in their families.

“They have have seen the world and experienced things that most of us can only imagine. Their stories are a treasure trove of wisdom and experience,” Russ said. “Talk to them about their service and ask them to share their stories. You will not be disappointed.”

Bev Umentum, president of American Legion Auxiliary 302, led the Pledge of Allegiance and presented a 70-year service pin to Ruth Trudell, who quipped that the Legion asked her to serve when she was a brand new bride.

“The ink wasn’t dry on the marriage license and they were after me to be a member of the American Legion Auxiliary,” Trudell said.

Senior class representative Timothy Cornette added his thanks to the veterans and said his fellow students have much to learn from them.

“Talk to them; listen to them; hear what they have to say,” Cornette said. “They are the ones who allowed to be American and live in a country with more freedom than you can imagine. We can’t thank you enough, veterans, for all you have done and all that you sacrificed for you and for us to be here today.”