Theresa Hebert | Greenwood, WI
As a kid, my main obsession was finding items. I dreamed of having a museum of items so that people could not only learn about history, but see and feel it. My big “find” happened when I was doing the drudgery of raking our large garden after my father plowed it and I found a large, white spearhead! It was so perfect. When other kids were playing, I was sketching out floor plans for museum exhibits.
Today I am honored to be the curator of The Highground Veterans Memorial Museum. The Highground is a 155-acre veterans memorial park with a remarkable view on beautiful land, but it is so much more than that. There is a deep emotional and spiritual aspect to this place. The Highground was started as a tribute to Vietnam War veterans, and it’s grown to encompass all twentieth and twenty-first century conflicts. The Highground is a refuge and a peaceful place of honor that is important for Veterans. There are not many places where people can come for healing that’s not in a clinical setting. So if somebody is having some struggles in life, whether it’s a veteran struggling with PTSD and transitions coming back home, or if it’s a veteran that’s been home for fifty years and still having some troubles dealing with their service, there are many things available at The Highground.
The Highground is not a political place at all. The veterans that come here speak about what happens in war. This is not a movie. These are the things that happened, these are the results, both physically and mentally. If it’s at all possible, avoid war. That is what we’re striving for. There are just so many layers. It’s so rich with real-life and important stories that need to be told. A Vietnam War chaplain, Chaplain Ray Stubbe, spoke at the Highground years ago, and I have never forgotten his words: “It is not just the men and women we have lost in war, it is the potential and what they would have brought to the world during their lives, their dreams, their accomplishments, that were never given a chance.”
I am a very empathetic person, I have always put myself in other people’s shoes and have asked myself what it would feel like to be in their situation. I also cannot stand injustice. Regardless of the politics, the treatment that the Vietnam veterans received when they came home was at the least unacceptable and at the most abhorrent. Several relatives of mine had served in Vietnam, including my mother’s brother. I have never understood how people can be so narrow-minded and cruel as to spit on veterans returning home—after they had served in a hellish situation as ordered by their country.
Working at The Highground came at a perfect time in my life. I saw an ad for a job in the gift shop and applied for it. At the time I was in a bad marriage and did not know how to change my situation. Once I started working at The Highground, I walked on the trails, soaked up the peace, and let my mind relax and get rid of the chaos. The open space helped me see beyond the tight isolated space that I had let myself create and that my situation was not hopeless. You can hear and feel the almost constant breeze, all the healing of nature is right there. There is nothing as healing as sitting on a mountaintop and listening to the wind in the trees. Here, at The Highground, it is that same healing feeling. Plus the volunteers and visitors here create a great feeling of community and support.
My work is amazingly fulfilling in many different ways. In addition to the museum, I coordinate our Highground veterans’ retreats and am in the beginning stages of creating a book on The Highground.
I feel passionate about conserving and presenting not only historical items, but the complete stories of the people that are part of The Highground. We have so many important stories, just in Wisconsin alone, that are still hidden. Once those people are gone, their stories could be lost forever. The Highground is so rich with real-life and important stories that need to be told.
Every day is a blessing here, and I will keep learning in order to do my utmost best with the history that is in my care. They say “if you do what you love, it’s not a job”, and that is absolutely 110 percent true for me. It’s not where I go and punch a clock and then I’m ready to go home. It is part of my life.