Fort McCoy’s open house helps past, present and future soldiers connect during Armed Forces Day

It’s Fort McCoy’s first Armed Forces Day open house since the COVID-19 pandemic began
It’s Fort McCoy’s first Armed Forces Day open house since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Published: May. 21, 2022 at 7:16 PM CDT
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FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WMTV) - The commemorative area at Fort McCoy replicates what the army installation looked like during World War II and provides a space where past, present and future soldiers can share stories with one another on Armed Forces Day.

U.S. Army Veteran Keith Purnell went to basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia but said Fort McCoy is basically the same. The mess hall replica is his favorite part.

”This is family and it’s like coming home,” Purnell said. “I immediately thought about what it would’ve been like to sit here at these tables with those soldiers in the 1940s and to have that connection immediately. It was like wow this is a part of my history.”

Keith served from 1981 to 2003 and retired out of his last posting in La Crosse, WI. He cannot relate to WWII soldiers for many reasons, but can relate to dining with his comrades during breakfast.

”Sitting down, breaking bread together and sharing that challenging experience you’re going through together, that’s where the bonding really takes place,“ Purnell said. ”To have the mannequins and the dishwashers and the cooks that gives it a heck of a lot more realistic feel.”

Fort McCoy Command Sergeant Major Raquel Didomenico said stories like Keith’s make their open house extra meaningful.

”You can see it in their faces,” Didomenico said. “They light up when they see the uniform again and they get to talk to us and tell us their stories a little bit.”

”And to know that soldiers now that are currently serving... this connection ties us all together,” Purnell said. “So that’s what makes it special to me.”

The Armed Forces Day open house happens once every year at Fort McCoy.

The commemorative area is open to the public on Fridays and certain Saturdays. People can find specific hours at their website here.

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