GUARD CALL-UP ANNIVERSARY
Just a few days ago marked the 50th anniversary of the call-up of about 1,300 Wisconsin Army National Guardsmen to Milwaukee to bring calm to downtown Milwaukee in the wake of rioting which was sweeping through several large cities in the country.
It was a period of unrest in some of the larger communities, including Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
I was a member of the Guard unit in Watertown back then and remember that call-up well. It was my first experience in a situation of that nature and it was a real awakening.
All totaled about 1,300 guardsmen were called up, including about 90 from the Watertown unit. We were on duty four days before being released to our units. It was an unusual project to say the least. Our Watertown unit was part of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry which also included units from Oconomowoc, Hartford and Fort Atkinson.
It was back on July 29 that our unit and most all of the Wisconsin National Guard’s combat units in Wisconsin were coming home from the two weeks of summer camp training. The summer training usually took place at Fort McCoy, but in 1967 it was decided the training should take place at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. It was a primitive location to be sure, and everyone felt pretty good about getting off those trucks after a long ride, probably eight hours or more. All of our clothing was used up and needed cleaning.
Well, that didn’t happen because the next night, July 30, the telephone tree started up and we were called to the local armory and then to Milwaukee.
Our duty was to enforce the curfew Mayor Henry Maier had put in place in many areas of the city. The rule was no one could cross a street in those areas and had to stay within their own block.
Our crew was assigned to a relatively rough area, Fourth and Walnut streets, on Milwaukee’s near north side. It was a rougher neighborhood but most all of the locals were understanding of the mission and didn’t cause any major problems. Order was restored quickly and by Aug. 3 we were dismissed to our armory in Watertown.
I was in Milwaukee a few years ago with a friend and on a whim we took a ride to that intersection at Fourth and Walnut and it was completely changed from my recollections back in the summer of 1967. I was told it wasn’t long after the rioting that this area of the city was selected for an “urban renewal” project. Some of the homes in that area were in poor condition and the government arranged to purchase and raze them. In their place new apartments were constructed, no doubt many of which were filled by people who were displaced by the project. Walnut Street, which had been a normal narrow street, was reconstructed into a four-lane artery with a boulevard in the center.
It looked much different than it did back in 1967 when the rioting was going on.
It was a long time ago but Watertown’s National Guard unit continues its missions to this day. The mission has changed several times over the years, but throughout it all, the unit has continued.
Years ago, before I got in, the armory’s proximity to the airport made it an aviation unit. Then, about 1965 it was changed to a combat company and since then it has remained in various combat capacities, always changing with new equipment and technology.
As we write this on Thursday, all is in good order for this, the 31st annual Riverfest celebration.
There’s always a few little “glitches” that come up in the final hours before the event opens and our team takes care of them as quickly as they come up.
It’s amazing how all those little things go away once the festival officially opens. What seemed like a big deal is suddenly just a minor distraction.
We want to encourage as many people as possible to use the free shuttle bus service the festival and several great sponsors provide. Riverside Park has very limited parking on or near the festival grounds so the buses are the best possible way to get to the park.
And, if you have someone who has some physical limitations but still wants to attend, you can drive them down to the park entrance and drop them off. From there go to a parking lot and ride the bus in.
Lots of planning and volunteer hours go into pulling off this event. The real key will be the weather — it always is. From what we’re seeing right now, the weather is looking pretty good for the entire weekend.
Be sure to take in the spectacular fireworks show tonight after the final concert. It will be another memorable one!
Also, enjoy the many foods local restaurants are featuring. They include Biggs Bar and Grill, Emil’s Pizza, Fendt Bros. Market, Glenn’s Market, La Finca, Main Street Treats, Mullen’s Dairy, Phil’s Pizza, Tribeca, Wingin’ It Bar and Grill and Zwieg’s Grill. They are all part of the engine that makes this festival great!
Enjoy the weekend and renew friendships and acquaintances at Riverfest this weekend.