MENASHA – A Menasha man has built his own version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in his front yard.
Steve Conto calls his creation Northeast Wisconsin Vietnam Memorial. It contains 242 names of the service members who died from 15 area counties.
The memorial itself grew out of a much larger project.
For Steve Conto, these are not just labels on plywood.
“That’s a name, that’s a person, that’s a story that was denied a full life,” he explained.
All of the names are remembered on Conto’s replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He told FOX 11 though decades have passed, the loss is palpable.
“The tears are still real, the heart-break is still real. That doesn’t matter, the years are irrelevant,” said Conto.
Conto was too young to fight in the Vietnam War, but his step brother did.
“I knew it was going on, but I didn’t know the magnitude,” he remarked.
Conto told us learning about the magnitude later prompted him to serve in the Navy, during the Gulf War.
The memories also spurred a big project. 12 years ago he started compiling the names and gravesites of all the Wisconsin service men who died in Vietnam.
“It’s called a ‘Final Bridge Project.’ It’s a bridge between their name on the wall and their final resting place,” Conto explained.
Conto told FOX 11 he has more than 1,200 names on his list. He’s also visited about 700 of the graves.
“I’ve cleaned the sites, trimmed the grass, washed the markers,” he said.
Conto found the information by researching on the web then talking to schools, VFW halls and family members.
“From that I found out the stories about them. Heart-wrenching stories, beautiful stories,” he said.
Conto told us that’s why he built this wall, to share those stories and to let visitors, family and comrades pay their respects, saying “that’s what Memorial Day is about, remembering that ultimate sacrifice.”
The memorial will be up through next Tuesday or possibly Thursday at Conto’s home on Elmwood Drive in Menasha. Anyone is welcome to stop by any time and pay their respects.