© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Memorial Day Profile - Veteran Andy Gordon

 Meet a veteran who developed great reverence for Memorial Day and its honorees.

People will attend ceremonies around the state and country today, commemorating the valiant service of American soldiers. WUWM’s Susan Bence met a veteran who developed great reverence for Memorial Day and its honorees.

She stumbled upon him at a celebration on the VA grounds in Milwaukee, among the stately buildings that compose the historic Soldiers Home district.

Andy Gordon had no intention of being cornered by a reporter. He was in the midst of dignitaries and people decked out in reenactment garb or commemorative Vietnam vests.

The 33-year-old simply wanted to drink in the sweetness of success.

“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people,” Gordon says.

Gordon belongs to a volunteer group called the Soldiers Home Community Advisory Council. It’s been working to save these grand mid 19th century gothic revival buildings from the wrecking ball.

“Today was the dedication of a plaque marking this as a national historic landmark. That entails the commitment of a lot of organizations to help preserve the campus,” Gordon says.

The centerpiece of the campus is the magnificent Soldiers Home itself where veterans – dating back to the Civil War – lived and recuperated. Loads of work lies ahead to shore up and bring these structures back to life, yet Gordon already envisions veterans filling them and soaking up their history.

“It started off with Civil War veterans; however, it served veterans from every war since then. You realize all of those who came before you, and have gone through what you went through and receive the care that you’re now receiving,” Gordon says.

Gordon has no more time to spare today; he’s in law school and in the middle of exams. He agrees to pick up our conversation when the semester ends.

Weeks later, over a cup of coffee, Gordon tells me that back in high school, none of his friends chose the military track. He felt differently.

“I think it came from family tradition; my grandfather was in the Army; my father was in the Marines; I have a great uncle who was in the Army. Just hearing their experiences, seeing them, I was drawn toward that,” Gordon says.

Gordon studied and trained at West Point; active duty followed.

“I was an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division and I served from 2002 to 2009. I spent two years in Iraq; the first time was during the initial invasion and then again from 2005 to 2006,” Gordon says.

Those deployments fostered a profound loyalty to his unit.

“When you’re oversees, you care for the mission and you want to accomplish it, but when it boils down to it, you’re there for the guy next to you. You become very close, very tight knit. You depend on each other in very real ways,” Gordon says.

Gordon’s mandatory five years of service ended in 2007. He had his paperwork in order and was ready to pack his bags; but he did an about-face, when learning his unit was up for another deployment – this time to Afghanistan.

“The day I was going to sign out, I passed a couple of my soldiers in the hallway and they said, ‘hey sir, where are you going’. What was I supposed to say ‘oh, I’m going to sign out of the Army; I’ll see you later’? I just couldn’t do it. That’s when I knew I was staying in for two more years,” Gordon says.

He stayed another two years. Gordon ended his military career in 2009. What he then encountered was the challenge of adjusting to everyday life.

“When you come home from a deployment you have that support of your peers. But when you get out of the military, that’s a different type of challenge because your problems are a lot different than those of your civilian friends,” Gordon says.

Gordon is focused on building his future; he’s newly engaged, and a year from now, will complete law school.

Yet part of him remains deeply tethered to the past – to thoughts of friends who have served, to those who did not return home, to the horrors of war.

“You learn how to cope with it, and I have. But it’s something I think about everyday ,” Gordon says.

Especially on Memorial Day.

Gordon remembers carefree childhood memories when the holiday signaled a day off from school.

Many years passed before its significance hit home.

“I returned in February of 2004 from my first deployment and Memorial Day arrived shortly thereafter. It sort of hit me what it meant. It’s different than Veterans Day; Veterans Day you’re honoring all those who served. Memorial Day you’re honoring those who served and never returned. And I didn’t quite grasp it, until I stopped and thought about who I was honoring that day. So, yeah, it definitely has a lot of significance,” Gordon says.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.