Honoring Wisconsin’s fallen heroes at Freedom Fest

Nearly 200 service men and women from Wisconsin have died since Sept. 11, 2001

After the death of Marine Sgt. Carson Holmquist in the Tennessee shooting that took place earlier this week, nearly 200 service members from Wisconsin have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

All of those lives lost and their families are being honored Saturday at Freedom Fest in La Crosse.

Freedom Fest began eight years ago as a way to celebrate, reflect and honor those who have sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedom.

The families of Wisconsin’s fallen heroes are invited to Freedom Fest as a way to say thank you and to show support, but those families say they’re are most thankful for the people around them at Freedom Fest — people who understand what they’re going through.

Freedom Fest begins with a motorcycle ride through the Coulee Region. It’s led by family members of Wisconsin’s fallen heroes, one of whom is Diane Bossert, of Fountain City.

“Our son Andrew was killed in 2005 in Iraq,” Bossert said.

Bossert has been to Freedom Fest a few years now, and said she keeps coming back because of the support she receives, especially from other families who have lost a loved one in combat. She calls the experience priceless.

“Because they know what you are dealing with, and what your feelings are and you don’t have to pretend with them,” Bossert said.

Kathryn O’Dell’s son Sean O’Dell died just last year. This year is her first experience at Freedom Fest, and she too enjoys being around people who know her pain. She said she’s swelling up with patriotism because so many people are thanking her for her son’s sacrifice.

“Some people are afraid to talk to you, some people won’t even mention your child’s name and they know what that’s like. You want people to talk about your child, you want people to remember,” Kathryn O’Dell said.

Members of the organization Camp Hometown Heroes are at Freedom Fest for the first ever time.

“Camp Hometown Heroes is a weeklong summer camp for kids who lost someone who served in the military,” said Deb Paschke, executive director of Camp Hometown Heroes.

The camp brings kids from all over the country to Wisconsin for a summer camp totally free to them and their families. 

Camp board member Sue Turowski said it’s a place where kids form a bond they may not find elsewhere.

“I think the biggest thing one of our kids said one time is, “‘I’m not different here, I feel comfortable here,'” Turowski said.

Camp Hometown Heroes is one of the recipients of some of the money raised this weekend at Freedom Fest.

The organization recently finished it’s third year of camp, bringing 140 kids from 27 different states, including Hawaii, to Wisconsin.