Stories from our heroes: Personal accounts from local veterans
BY ASHLYN SOLINSKY
STRATFORD — Each day, we get a chance to exercise the rights of our freedom: being able to choose what we eat, what we wear, what we say or believe, where we work, whom we vote for, and how we live. These small blessings are bought at a large price: the sacrifices of our brave veterans. Thanks to them, we can enjoy the freedom and safety that we too often take for granted. So today, we honor some of our local veterans by telling their stories and appreciating the gifts they’ve won for us.
Robert Solinsky, Stratford
Robert Solinsky was deployed from 1964 to 1966 at the age of 21 during the Vietnam War. Originally, Bob was told he would be a Forward-Observer, one of the most dangerous combat positions there is. “We got on a bus – about 30 of us – and we’d just arrived in Fort Sill, Oklahoma,” Bob explained. “The Sergeant got off the bus and went into headquarters for forty-five minutes. He came back, got on the bus, turned around, and we went right back to where we started.” The training school for Forward-Observers was filled; Bob would be trained as an ammunition specialist instead. He graduated in the top five of his entire unit and was immediately promoted after training.
Shortly after, Bob was deployed to Germany, where his job was to test ammunition. What Bob remembers most fondly was the opportunity he had to travel while he served. “Germany was a beautiful country,” Bob says, “Whenever I had enough time accumulated, I would take a leave and go to a lot of different countries.” He traveled to countries across Europe on his leave: England, France, Italy, and Luxembourg, among others.
Bob returned to Wisconsin after two years of service. After flying to Milwaukee and taking a train to Junction City, he planned to hitchhike back to his family’s farm in Stratford. “The first car that came stopped,” Bob said. “They took me straight to my yard, even though it was way out of their way.”
Bob would go on to live in central Wisconsin for over fifty years. In 2019, Solinsky would be invited to take part in the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, a one-day trip for veterans to see monuments built in their honor in Washington, D.C. “They treated us like royalty,” Bob said. “I was just amazed.”
William “Sonny” Hollar, Junction City
William “Sonny” Hollar served as a cook in the First Division from 1969-1971, at the age of 19 to 21. “I went in December 3rd ,” he remembers, “right after deer hunting. I got a buck that year, too.”
Hollar entered the military thinking he would be sent overseas. “I really didn’t start out to be a cook,” he says. “I was ‘jungle training’ to go to Vietnam. But when I was going to Kansas, they were coming back from Vietnam.” He traveled to military bases across the nation to carry out his assignment – Fort Camel, Kentucky, Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Riley, Kansas. “My first paycheck was $90 a month.” he added. Factoring in inflation, that’s roughly $728 today.
What Sonny missed most while he served was his home on the farm, where he learned to make homemade fudge. One night while he was in the army, Sonny decided to make a batch of fudge for himself and his friends. A lieutenant walked in on him and asked to try some. Sonny obliged, and the Lieutenant exclaimed that it was “the best fudge he’d ever had.”
In the last year of his service, Sonny’s company undertook a trip to Germany for additional training. “The whole first division picked up and went to Germany for six weeks,” Sonny described. “We had to cook out of a mess tent and sleep at night in pup tents. We were working all the time, morning, noon, and night.” The First Division moved every three or four days, functioning with the same vigilance and efficiency that would be employed in wartime. However, Sonny remembers one unfortunate incident that occurred at that time. “Nobody knew where the next spot was,” he says. “We were lost near the Czechoslovakian border.” Once they realized their mistake, the division rerouted, but it was too late. Their vehicle ran out of gas. Luckily, a semi-truck was passing by and stopped to help. The trucker siphoned some gas out of his truck and gave them just enough to get back on their way.
At the end of his service, Sonny returned to his family farm in Wisconsin. Today, he lives in Junction City. He still makes ‘lucky hunting fudge’ for his grandchildren every year during deer hunting season. He is an active member of VFW Post 468.
Aaron Cherney, Milladore
Aaron Cherney served in the Wisconsin National Guard for 21 years. He was deployed to Kuwait from 2005-2007 and to Iraq from 2008-2010.
He was then stationed at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, to train troops in gunnery and convoy operations. After that, he was deployed to Kosovo at the end of 2012. He enlisted as a Forward-Observer. “I was basically the spotter on the ground. I would go in advance to find the targets, call it in to the back, and they would fire at them with the artillery,” Aaron described.
For his first deployment, Aaron was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for immersion training. “We lived in tents with no running water for 60 days. About 47 days in, Hurricane Katrina hit,” he recalled. His unit was sheltered in cinderblock barracks. From a window, Aaron watched as trees were uprooted and a building collapsed. When the storm had passed, they were ordered to clean trees and debris from the road. “They figured it was going to take us two weeks to get it all cleaned up, but it only took us four days,” Aaron said, “When you have a bunch of guys from northern Wisconsin who know how to run a chainsaw, it doesn’t take long.”
While he was overseas, Aaron found that life in the Middle East was vastly different from life in the United States. “Most people think the desert is always dry. When they have the rainy season, like when we were in Kuwait, we got 27 inches of rain in 24 hours,” he said. “The locals were actually telling us to turn the weather machine off because they thought it brought the rain.” He also discovered that the word ‘poverty’ had a far more extreme definition in the Middle East than in America. He encountered herders who still traveled nomadically with their sheep or goats, sleeping in tents and living off their animals. “It gives you a new perspective,” Aaron explained. “What would be considered poverty here in the U.S. is luxury to someone living over there.”
After returning from his second deployment, Aaron served as a trainer at Fort McCoy. He worked closely with the soldiers in his unit to build their skills and prepare them for their next promotion. When he retired from the National Guard, he was the Operations NCO (non-commissioned officer) for the battalion. “To be a good leader, you have to learn how to be a follower first,” Cherney reflected. “Everything you’re doing is going to be a learning experience.”
Veteran’s Day is an opportunity to thank the brave men and women who fought to keep the United States a free country. But that freedom does not disappear once Veteran’s Day is over, and neither do our veterans. Every day of independence is another chance to stand up and say, “Thank you.” A special thanks to all the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the United States military.