The phrase “Hometown” is proudly displayed in storefronts, posters, and street signs throughout Verona. As trolls are to Mount Horeb and alphorns to New Glarus, “Hometown USA” has become part of our identity. A half century has passed since this nickname was gifted to us, and remembering the context from which it came helps us appreciate what it represents.
Perhaps no one takes the comforts of home less for granted than a soldier half a world away. In 1966, over 100,000 U.S. service members were involved in the Vietnam War. Those who were drafted or enlisted into the conflict found themselves 15,000 miles away with few threads connecting them back to their prewar lives. One such thread was “Operation Hometown Paper”, a program by the American Legion Auxiliary that sent local papers to troops in service. As Army Specialist Donald Schmidt, a Verona area native, said in a June 20, 1966 letter to the Verona Press,
“There are not too many things a person has to look forward to when he is in the Boon Docks like we are. Mail is the biggest morale builder there is over here…and a home town newspaper is a great thing.”
The Verona Press editions of 1966 that Schmidt and his buddies were reading covered small-town topics familiar today: a schoolboard race, events at the library, blood drives, construction on Verona Avenue, school overcrowding, etc. A social events column by Mrs. Rosa Feller told of Verona families taking vacations, having picnics at Vilas Zoo, and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.
Occasionally service member would write to the Verona Press to update their mailing address and express appreciation for the gifted newspapers. Donald Schmidt’s letter was among these, printed on June 30th, 1966 under the headline “Verona Press Mail From Viet Nam”. When he and the rest of his Third Detachment of the 101st Airborne saw his letter printed, they felt it to be a rare moment of recognition and asked their Sergeant G. W. Wilson to write back. It was in this letter that Verona’s Nickname was born:
“The spirit shown by your printing of his letter has helped the morale of our unit. It is a rare thing for us to receive recognition at all…
We have chosen your town as the perfect example of Hometown, U.S.A. Though many of us are from big towns, we have decided that it is the little town that personifies our country. We would be proud if you would allow us to take your town as our own.”