My September 2017 issue of Smithsonian magazine arrived this weekend. The issue’s theme is “The intrigue, bravery, and heartbreak hidden in our past.”
The two-page spread on pages 26 and 27 caught my eye. The headline:
The war comes home to Wisconsin
In an indelible picture 50 years ago, one family faces a loss in Vietnam
Sure enough, the picture was of the Stanley and Alice Broome family of Sun Prairie, my hometown. A U.S. Army officer is placing the medal for combat valor into the father’s hand for the son he lost in Vietnam, Tom Broome. I knew Tom a little bit. Went out on a wild night on the streets of Madison with his younger brother John, shown in the photo at rear left center. John in this photo is 10 days from his own induction; he eventually made it to Vietnam and back out again.
The father worked at Wisconsin Porcelain Co., where I worked summers and after school to earn money for college — college that kept me out of the War with a student deferment and, later, with an impossibly lucky lottery number. (Something like 360.)
The photo was taken by Dave Sandell of The Capital Times with whom I worked a decade or so after this photo was published, on September 29, 1967. Fifty years ago. The older man at left background is Mayor Clarence Severson, who I don’t remember. The girl is Tom’s sister Fannie, age 13. The man with the Legionaire’s hat is Victor Ward; I got to think he was the post commander. The photo was taken at the old Legion Hall (Post 333) in the first block of Main Street, just up a bit from the porcelain factory (both gone) and the sweet corn canning factory (now a restaurant and apartments).
Vietnam by September 1967 was increasingly unpopular. Your bloggeur had graduated high school that June and anti-war demonstrators were already fanning out to Sun Prairie H.S. (then on Kroncke Drive) from the UW-Madison campus down the road. Tom Broome, age 18, was the first fatality. (James Kesselhon would be another, as would Fred “Fritz” Suchomel — who pitched SP to a state baseball title — was the third.)
One month later, in October 1967, the Dow Chemical protests, arising out of Mifflin Street, would injure 70 and result in 100 arrests, including that of a rowdy student named Paul Soglin. LBJ would withdraw from consideration for a second term in his famous nation TV address that next March. (“I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party …”) The Democratic National Convention would be riven by tear gas and police batons and the bulging veins of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in August 1968. The Days of Rage followed in 1969; Army Math in Sterling Hall would be bombed a year later. Jane Fonda posed with the guns of Hanoi in 1972. Soglin was elected mayor of Madison in 1973 and, two years later, would present the key to our city to Cuba’s Communist dictator, Fidel Castro.
Truly, Sandell’s photograph captures a moment of history — the heartbreak of losing a family member so far from home, the pride in his ultimate sacrifice, the recognition of a young man’s valor — however unpopular was America’s side in that war.
The radicals running the City of Madison today might do well to remember when they decide who merits being called valorous in an unpopular cause when they decide the history of Confederates Rest.