Hamburger Hill: Council Supports Vietnam War Reenactment Which Could Break City Firearms Ordinances

The council of the city of Waupaca in Wisconsin is wrestling with a decision to allow a Vietnam War re-enactment in a city park. The difficulty is that the re-enactment involves, of course, firing blanks from firearms in the public area.

John Hart is the city attorney. During the Waupaca Common Council’s meeting on March 7, he said that two ordinances would be violated if firearms were both out of their cases and being discharged in the park. March 7 was the first time that the proposal went before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

The board approved support of the event and sent it to the common council. However, as city attorney John Hart explained to the city council, firearms may not be discharged within the city limits and may not be carried in a city park, unless they are not loaded and contained within a carrying case.

The exceptions to the ordinance about discharging firearms in the city only permit law enforcement, licensed firearms dealers and those taking part in target practice at a club holding a permit to do so.

Alderman Paul Hagen said council could start a change to the ordinances to permit exceptions on an individual basis.

He was prepared to make a motion to back a request to hold the re-enactment event and combine it with directing Hart to bring a request to council to change the ordinance. But the Mayor, Brian Smith, said the modifications to the rules must happen first. The City Council could debate the matter as soon as March 21.

If the council agrees to change the ordinances, the first reading could occur at the council’s April 5 meeting and then have a second reading as early as April 18, Smith said. He noted the council could exempt the second reading on April 5 and take action that evening.

Eric Percy, who made the request for the re-enactment to common council on March 7, explained the re-enactment would be on the park’s southwest side of the park’s sled hill on Saturday and Sunday, August 26 and 27.

Percy, 32 has been staging re-enactments since he was a toddler.

His proposal mentioned highlighting and educating the populace about aspects of the Vietnam War, in particular, a May 1968 battle at Hill 937 that came to be called Hamburger Hill. Authenticity and safety checks would be done each morning, and each re-enactor would use blanks.

Percy’s proposal includes a small admission charge, although he said an admission charge is not required.  He was responding to a comment Kjelland made in a March 6 letter to council, writing that he was in favor of the event because the admission charge would suggest there is a profit motive.

Percy said the event will go ahead, whether there is or is not an admission charge. He is not doing it for the money. It is for the veterans.

Two members of council served in Vietnam, and they have different opinions about the suggested re-enactment. In a letter one of these described his feelings, explaining Vietnam is still a fresh memory of those who fought in there, and the event may resurrect memories that are best forgotten, Waupaca County News reported. Alderman Dave Petersen said he was in the region of Hill 937, but luckily it was 18 months after the battle happened. He has a different view, and favors the re-enactment.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE