Remembering Greendale’s Fallen Soldiers
“Greendale GI Killed in Vietnam” reads the obituary headline on page 10 of the Milwaukee Journal on Tuesday, March 24, 1970.
Over 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War. 1,161 were from Wisconsin. Three were from Greendale.
Greendale residents Frederick Brodhagen (Marine Corps) and Donald Paskowicz (Army) were both killed in 1967. Private Brodhagen was 20 years old. Private Paskowicz was 19. Over 2/3rds of U.S. casualties of the war were killed in the years 1967, 1968, and 1969. The most common age for casualties was age 20.
The outlier of the three Greendale casualties from the Vietnam War, and the “Greendale GI” written about in the Milwaukee Journal on March 24, 1970, is First Lieutenant Gerald (“Jerry”) Hauswirth, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, United States Army.
Jerry was always a bit of an outlier. The youngest son of Ray and Eleanor Hauswirth, Jerry grew up as a “Greendale Original” on Alba Court. The little brother of Buddy and Diane was a charismatic and charming boy who loved sports and the outdoors.
Greendale was the perfect place for Jerry and his friends. From his home on Alba Court, Jerry could cross Grange Avenue and shoot pheasants roaming the vast farm fields to the north. The fields and parks in the Village provided year-round ballfields and fun for Greendale kids. As a student at St. Alphonsus, Jerry walked home for lunch. It was at St. Alphonsus that Jerry befriended the “new kid”, Ted, in 6th Grade. They’d become lifelong friends.
Jerry was always a smaller boy growing up. With a November birthday, he was also younger than his classmates. Despite his size, his athletic ability allowed him to excel at sports. Finally, while at Greendale High School, Jerry grew tall and strong. He played on the school’s football and basketball teams. In the 1961-62 basketball season, Jerry started at forward alongside star Bob Bruett for Coach Ron Barbian’s Panthers. Personal highlights included scoring 14 points in a win over Nicolet on January 12, 1961. It was the school’s best season ever, and good enough for 2nd Place in the Braveland Conference.
With his pleasant and easy-going disposition, the tall, athletic and handsome kid was beloved by all at his school, and in his small town of Greendale.
After graduating from Greendale High School in 1962, Jerry set off for college at Oshkosh State University to join his older brother Buddy. It was at Oshkosh that Jerry met Sharon Komp of Appleton. Eventually, his old childhood friend Ted would join him in Oshkosh.
Jerry and Sharon dated through the college years. With his great sense of humor and warm smile, Sharon loved being with Jerry. Sharon’s parents loved Jerry, too.
Upon graduation from Oshkosh in May 1967, faced with the inevitability of being drafted, Jerry enlisted in the Army. Later that summer, Jerry would report for basic training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. Never one to get too worried about formalities, Jerry proposed marriage to Sharon, over the phone, while at basic training. She said yes. The wedding would be in December at St. Therese in Appleton when Jerry was home on leave.
A brief honeymoon to Chicago ensued and then back to Appleton for the New Year’s holiday. On New Year’s Eve 1967, the Green Bay Packers were set to host the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL Championship Game. With a game time temperature of minus 15 degrees, Sharon’s parents, longtime season ticket holders, chose not to go. They gave their tickets to Jerry & Sharon. The Packers defeated the Cowboys, 21-17. The game would later be known as the “Ice Bowl.”
Jerry had applied for Officer Candidate School while in the Army. His application was accepted and he reported to Ft. Benning (Georgia) for training. In July 1968, Jerry was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army.
After becoming an officer, Jerry was stationed at Ft. Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. With Sharon with him, they chose to live off-base. Free time was spent exploring the Alaska wilderness and spending time with friends. The off-base housing allowed Jerry to finally have a dog. “Daisy,” a St. Bernard pup, joined the family.
Orders came down that Jerry would be going to Vietnam. In preparation, Jerry and Sharon traveled to Sharon’s parents’ house in Florida. She would stay with her parents while Jerry was away.
Jerry reported for duty in Vietnam on November 1, 1969. The journey to Vietnam took 3 days. The tour was to be 8 months long. 4 of the months to be served in the field; 4 months safely in the “rear.”
As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, Jerry was stationed at Camp Evans. Camp Evans was located northwest of the city of Hue in the northernmost province of South Vietnam.
Jerry moved quickly into leadership positions with the 506th. He became known as the best platoon leader in Alpha Company directly responsible for the men in his platoon and often more as the Commanding Officer. The primary responsibility of the 506th was to provide security to the fire support bases outside of Hue.
It had been a rather uneventful four months for Lt. Hauswirth in Vietnam. Security of fire support bases involved hiking through jungle and mountainous terrain. The heat, humidity and rain made life particularly challenging especially while carrying heavy equipment. Nevertheless, Lt. Hauswirth kept an upbeat disposition by looking forward to the future.
That changed on the evening of March 14, 1970 near Fire Support Base Mooney. While leading his platoon on an evening patrol they encountered an ambush. In the initial fighting, one of Jerry’s men, the point man, was wounded. Lt. Hauswirth led several of his men to aid the wounded soldier. After regrouping his platoon, they conducted an assault of the enemy positions. Jerry “single-handedly charged the position and engaged them with grenades until he was mortally wounded. His actions were greatly responsible for the insurgents to flee,” was the consolation recorded in the Award of the Silver Star (posthumous).
Half-way around the world, in a place that looked nothing like his boyhood home of Greendale, the youngest son of Ray & Eleanor Hauswirth, the little brother of Buddy and Diane, the husband of Sharon, was killed.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1970, Sharon was working at a nursery school in Naples, Florida. Through the window she saw a car pull up and two men exited the car. She knew what they were there for; her prayers for Jerry’s safe return would not be answered.
Jerry’s sister, Diane, got the call from Sharon shortly after. Buddy picked up his brother-in-law, Vyto, and together they went to Cutler-Hammer to inform Jerry’s father, Ray. From there, it was back to Greendale to break the news to Jerry’s mother, Eleanor. Before the car was parked at 6099 Oriole Lane, Ray ran inside to tell his wife their son was gone.
Eleanor’s cry could be heard outside.
“Funeral services for 1st Lt. Gerald R. Hauswirth, 25, a Greendale soldier stationed in Vietnam since last October, will be held at 10:30 a.m., Friday in the Bruskiewitz Forest Lane Funeral Home, 5355 W. Forest Home Ave.”
—Milwaukee Sentinel, March 24, 1970
The body would be at Bruskiewitz Forest Lane Funeral Home from 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursday. The Easter Holy Week made scheduling Jerry’s funeral at St. Alphonsus impossible. Nonetheless, arrangements were made for a Catholic blessing at the funeral home. Pallbearers included his best friend, Ted, and his brothers-in-law Steve and Vyto. Henry Ross, the Principal of Greendale High School, and teachers Richard Bergner, Kerwin Bartow, and Ron Barbian attended the service.
At the funeral, the body of Lt. Hauswirth was dressed in full military uniform. To preserve the body for the journey home, the Department of Defense placed the body in a sealed, glass-topped casket. Jerry’s grief-stricken wife, Sharon, refused to leave her husband’s body. She spent the night of Thursday, March 26, 1970 by his side.
Lt. Gerald R. Hauswirth was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery on Good Friday, March 27, 1970 at 10:30 a.m. with full military honors. No reception would follow. Jerry’s best friend Ted drove Ray and Eleanor home to Greendale. No words were spoken.
Likely by design, Jerry’s letters home never gave his parents any indication of the threat he and his men faced when out in the field. Jerry’s letters home spoke of vacations at the family cottage and of the Green Bay Packers. Letters spoke of the conditions of life in Vietnam, and what they’d do when got home. Thoughts focused on starting a family with Sharon.
Jerry knew that Easter 1970 was special. On February 4, 1970, he wrote to his parents:
“Easter this year seems a little more important than in the past. I plan on being over the worst and just about ready to start coasting my way out of here. After my R&R it will only be a few months before I will be headed home. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here since 1 Nov but then again I feel like I’ve been here for years. The two worlds are so opposite you can’t compare the two unless you’ve lived in both.”
“R&R” for Lt. Hauswirth was to be in Hawaii just a week after Easter. His wife Sharon to join him. Jerry’s final letter home was dated February 28, 1970.
At the age of 25, Lt. Hauswirth was older than most of the U.S. casualties of the war. Officers, in contrast to enlisted men, accounted for less than 10% of U.S. casualties in Vietnam. His deployment was after the military began reducing the number of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, and by March 1970, the number of U.S. casualties had declined significantly. The transition to “Vietnamization”, or turning the war over to the South Vietnamese army, was well underway. Indeed, Lt. Hauswirth was working closely with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) as the U.S. prepared to transition responsibility for defending the country to the South Vietnamese.
While Jerry was an outlier in comparison to the other casualties of the war, his violent death in Vietnam was sadly not uncommon in some regards. Lt. Hauswirth was killed in the A Shau Valley of the Thua Thein province. The strategically-critical A Shau Valley carried vital arteries of the Ho Chi Mihn Trail. It was also home to Hill 973, infamously known as “Hamburger Hill.” History would prove the Thua Thien province most deadly for U.S. military.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was opened in 1982 and 58,307 names are on the Memorial Wall representing the lives of those killed in action in Vietnam. Jerry’s name can be found at Panel 13W-Line 127.
In 1990, Buddy Hauswirth traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit the Memorial. He left Jerry’s golf club (driver) at the Memorial with a note for Jerry. Jerry’s driver was collected by the National Park Service. As a part of an exhibit titled”Personal Legacy: The Healing of a Nation,” the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History selected, and profiled, certain items left at the Memorial Wall. Jerry’s driver was chosen.
For every life cut-off too soon, there is sadness, pain and anger, and eventually healing. Jerry’s death was no different. Following Jerry’s funeral, Sharon returned to Florida. Struggling to make sense of her new life, she decided to return to Alaska where she and Jerry had such fond memories as newlyweds at Ft. Richardson. Years later, Sharon would marry Jim Peot and welcome his children and three daughters of her own into her family. Now a grandmother, Sharon lives in Appleton.
Jerry’s siblings, Diane and Buddy, made Greendale their home, as did Jerry’s friend Ted. Diane and Vyto would have five children; Buddy and Marilyn, three. Jerry’s parents spent much of their lives in Greendale, too. In 1992, Ray Hauswirth would pass away. In 2009, Eleanor Hauswirth died. Before she died, her grandson (and your municipal judge) would take her to Holy Cross Cemetery to visit her son’s grave every Memorial Day.
We honor those who have left the world by remembering them. We find reminders of Jerry’s legacy of optimism, kindness, humility, humor, adventure and spirit in our own lives. In truth, Jerry would never have wanted anything like this to be written about him. He would have wanted us to live a life filled with family and friends with plenty of laughs along the way.
Special thanks to the many contributors including Vyto Kapocius, Diane Kapocius (Hauswirth), Buddy Hauswirth, Marilyn Hauswirth, Sharon Peot (Hauswirth)(Komp), and Ted Mainella for their recollections. Dedicated to the families of Fred Brodhagen and Don Paskowicz. Special dedication to my grandparents and the parents of Jerry Hauswirth: Ray & Eleanor Hauswirth.