Eagle Brigade serenades veteran with Alzheimer’s
By Staff Sgt. Ryan Rayno, 181st Multifunctional Training Brigade
Soldiers of the 181st Multifunctional Training Brigade did some early caroling for Walter Haag, a 37-year Army Reserves veteran, when they sang “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” to him Dec. 17, 2020, at Fort McCoy, Wis.
Even though Haag has Alzheimer’s disease and has lost nearly all capability to communicate verbally, it didn’t stop him from enjoying the singing.
“The Army has been his whole life so this has meant a lot,” Evelyn Haag, Haag’s wife, said, while her husband stood next to her beaming. “To see him go through this, the honor they gave him…it means a lot. He’s been out of the Army for quite some time, but to recognize him and his 37 years, I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
The Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce coordinated the intended surprise event with Haag’s wife, but that proved to be too difficult to hide.
“This didn’t start until 11 a.m., but Walt was up early and fully dressed by 7:15 a.m.,” Mrs. Haag said with a big smile. “I tried to tell him that he might spill something on his nice clothes, but he wanted to make sure he was good to go.”
As excited as Haag was, the Eagle Brigade Soldiers were just as eager to be a part of the event.
“When the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce came to us with this opportunity, there wasn’t a doubt in our mind that we wanted to participate,” Col. Dave Woodruff, the commander of the 181st Multifunctional Training Brigade, said.
Continuing the thought, Woodruff stressed the need to work with the brigade’s surrounding communities to build and strengthen working relationships.
“It’s important that we support our local communities, and it’s important that we honor those that served before us,” Woodruff said. “To have the opportunity to do both at the same time…it was an easy decision to make and even easier to find volunteers to join in the event.”
For Woodruff, this event meant more than singing the Army song or handing out a coin.
“Once you put on this uniform, you’re a Soldier for life, and your family is forever a part of the Army family,” Woodruff said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate that than honoring Mr. Haag.”
For the Haag’s, that couldn’t be truer.
“It’s very emotional for the both of us,” Mrs. Haag said while holding back tears. “I am so grateful; I’m just dumbfounded of what they did for my husband. I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
Along with the Eagle Brigade and the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce, the 88th Readiness Division, the Fort McCoy Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and the Monroe County Veterans’ Services office participated in the event.