If a single picture can tell a thousand words, then more than 200 pictures should tell a pretty good story about the 177-year history of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Lt. Col. Eric Killen, a senior staff officer at Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, put together that story when he published a 127-page pictorial history last fall of the Wisconsin Army National Guard that he hopes will spark more interest in the organization’s history
“I have an interest in history and it struck me that not many of our young Soldiers know or appreciate our organization’s history,” Killen said. “They don’t know anything about the 32nd Brigade, the Civil War or anything that we have done. It is through no fault of their own, because there is nothing out there.”
Killen joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1985 and majored in history in college. He always has had a passionate interest in military history.
“I read all kinds of military history books — it is what I do for fun,” Killen said. “Believe it or not, when I have a free day on a weekend I will pick up a military history book.”
While the idea for writing a history of the Wisconsin Army National Guard had always intrigued him, Killen’s full-time duties with the organization combined with completing the Army War College kept the project on the back burner.
“After I finished War College a year ago and had all this free time I determined that it was now or never to do this project,” said Killen.
Killen spent about two months doing initial research to determine if he had enough material for the project and then pitched the idea to Arcadia Publishing. The company is best known for its Images of America series, which consists of photographic histories on subjects popular with local audiences. According to the company’s website, the series consists of more than 7,000 titles where each “features more than 200 vintage images, capturing often forgotten times and bringing to life the people, places and events that define a community.”
“Once I concluded there was plenty of photographs out there,” Killen said, “I then talked with the publisher a couple of times where they try to determine if I had the wherewithal and knowledge to do something like this. Once they were convinced, I entered into a contract with a project end date of about a year.”
The book consists of a brief introductory history of the Wisconsin Army National Guard and seven chapters that cover the organization’s involvement in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, Mexican Border Service, World War I, World War II, the Berlin Crisis and the Global War on Terror. Each chapter contains around 20 historic images complete with detailed captions that capture the nature of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s activities during each event.
“The hardest part was sorting through it trying to figure out which pictures can be used,” Killen said. “Sometimes, I would get a picture that I’m convinced shows the Wisconsin National Guard, but I couldn’t prove it. When you come across a picture with names, dates and perhaps a journal attached with it, that stuff is gold.”
Killen combed through numerous archives, libraries and historical societies to locate the right collection of photographs that captured both the contributions of the individual Guardsmen and the organization as a whole during each event.
“A lot of people at the Wisconsin National Guard Museum, Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Milwaukee Public Library and other smaller organizations throughout the state helped me any way they could to find photos and other materials,” Killen said. “A retired school teacher at the Monroe County Historical Society would e-mail me photos long after my initial visit.”
Although he considers himself quite knowledgeable on the history of the Wisconsin National Guard, Killen found that he learned a great deal more.
“What I learned most was about the Spanish-American War era,” Killen said. “I learned we provided four regiments and one went to Puerto Rico. I also learned we had 126 casualties, of which only two were from combat — the rest were from disease.”
Overall, Killen found the experience both tremendously rewarding and interesting not only for the historical component, but also learning more about the publishing process. He also was surprised about how much historical material is out there and he says that there is more than enough material to do additional projects.
Is another history book on the horizon?
“I’ve thought about it,” Killen admitted.