Mequon Prepares for War… Or Something
The city has installed a Cold War tank in the middle of a venerable cemetery.
In 1995, after a five-year wait, the Howard J. Schroeder American Legion Post 457 received a M60A1 tank on loan from the Department of the Army and parked it outside the Legion Hall at 6001 W. Mequon Rd. in Mequon. It served as the “most visible symbol of the American Legion and community of veterans in Mequon and Thiensville,” Elmer C. Renzlow of the legion wrote in a letter to Mequon city officials this June.
That’s for sure. The 49-ton tank measures 30 feet long (with its gun forward), 12 feet wide and ten and a half feet tall, and was highly visible to traffic along Mequon Road at the busy intersection of Cedarburg Road. You couldn’t miss it parked outside the 19th century building that housed the Legion in what was originally the Thoreau School, named for the famous pacifist.
Mequon abounds in ironies. One is that the 46-square mile city, the third largest in land area in the state, had no town center. Whatever it had that would pass as a downtown was located a half mile north in the Village of Thiensville. But around 5 years ago or so, the City of Mequon decided it needed its own town center and targeted the northwest corner of the busy intersection where the legion hall stood.
The hall and some neighboring buildings were demolished for the construction now underway of multi-story housing and street level commercial space, including a Colectivo coffee shop and a Lowlands Group restaurant, all developed by Wired Properties. In addition, a new home would be built for the legion post and its tank.
Unfortunately, as work progressed, it became clear the tank would wind up just 5 feet away from the new post, with its gun turret overhanging the sidewalk. This put the legion members in a bind, since the Army retains title to the tank. If the post wanted to give it back, the Army could order it to any place in the country, with the legion being responsible for paying the freight and all expenses.
Stuck with an expensive tank on their hands, the legion members looked to the west for a new home for the tank, and settled on the adjacent Opitz Cemetery, a city-owned property established in 1848. It turns out a portion of the cemetery southeast of its maintenance shed was designated as a park, although nobody living or dead in the City of Mequon has ever used it as such. Earlier this summer, the tank was rolled to its new location, an 18 ft by 32 ft slab of concrete in the “park” in the middle of the cemetery.
Opitz is not a large cemetery. It is only 2.59 acres, which would be too small a property to build a single-family home in some parts of the city. Arlington National Cemetery, it is not. So the principal feature of this rural graveyard is now a decommissioned 1960s era tank. This is not a Civil War cannon in a military cemetery, it is a Cold War tank, devoid of charm and far too overwhelming for the site. It certainly does not conjure up the idea of a peaceful rest through eternity.
“Which group of knuckleheads thought this was a good idea?” mused John Mankowski, a Mequon resident who posted this sentiment and a photo of the tank on his Facebook page.
Jesse Thyes, Mequon’s assistant city clerk outlined the decision-making process in a letter to Urban Milwaukee:
“The Opitz Cemetery Board met several times (May 15, 2014, and June 3, 2014) with the Legion and their consultant to develop a plan to move it to the cemetery. It should be noted that the portion of Opitz Cemetery where the tank is now located is identified as “park area” according to the master plans on file with the City. After considering the Legion’s request and reviewing the submitted landscape plan the Opitz Cemetery Board voted 2-1 to relocate the tank.
“In order to have an additional level of review, the proposal was also taken before the Public Welfare Committee at their June 10, 2014 public meeting. Approximately 30 Legion members appeared at the meeting to support the move. Nobody spoke in opposition. After receiving a few questions and suggestions the Public Welfare Committee also voted to support the move.
“Not having direct involvement with the process, I believe that the key factors in the decision making process included;
- The Legion voiced their support and there was no opposing comments received.
- All costs related to the move to the Opitz Cemetery and landscaping will be paid by the Legion.
- The location within the Opitz Cemetery is designated as “park area” on the master plan.
- There are 27 veterans identified as being buried at Opitz Cemetery, which will be noted when the memorial is completed.”