Vietnam Veteran Dave Ripp says every photo holds a story and all veterans have relationships with their families who share their photos on a Remembrance Wall he started last year in the lounge of his supper club in Sturgeon Bay. / Ramelle Bintz/Door County Advocate
Today, the third Saturday in May, is Armed Forces Day, established to pay tribute to the men and women serving in the U.S. military. In Door County, as across the nation, families with members in the military are often eager to share their stories and photos.
A Sturgeon Bay restaurant has an unofficial “wall” of its own where families can share these stories, started by its Vietnam veteran owner who wanted to capture the living history many local veterans carry with them every day.
A year ago, Dave Ripp began mounting the photos in a gallery in the lounge of the Nightingale Supper Club. He now has more than 150 photos of living and dead veterans whose families brought in photos to share.
“It was actually Julie Henry’s idea,” Ripp said. Henry owns the Pack N Ship Plus store just down the street from the Nightingale on Egg Harbor Road. Henry offered to resize family photos for free so all are consistently framed. Henry's Vietnam veteran father also has his picture on the wall. There is no cost for contributing photos, and Ripp and Henry said all original photos are returned.
Ripp, who served in the Army in Vietnam in 1969, has a group shot of his unit with his buddies in two of the only larger photos. The rest are all uniformly displayed with their name, date of service and branch of military.
It’s quickly evident why Ripp’s Remembrance Wall is close to his heart.
“This guy,” he says, pointing to a photo of John Tong Jr. 1970, “I ran into at the shipping and receiving center in Vietnam. I was coming home after my tour, and he was just coming in. We went to Sturgeon Bay High School together. What are the odds of that happening, seeing each other among 25,000 other people, having two Door County guys meet up that way? It was just incredible. Me coming home, and him going in.”
Tong’s father, John, who served in 1943, is also on display as are many other father/son and grandfathers and uncles. A few women’s faces are also on the wall — one was not a veteran but was killed in the line of duty: Margaret Anderson, 34, who was shot Jan. 1, 2012, while she was working at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.
Anderson’s parents were at the Nightingale having dinner while visiting Door County and saw Ripp’s Remembrance Wall and asked if their daughter could be included.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wouldn’t refuse a request like that. The woman died protecting this beautiful country.”
Other stories tug at the heart, and Ripp has talked with or knows almost everyone on the wall who brought in a photo and shared their family story. The stories are important to be shared, he said.
Most of those featured on the Remembrance Wall are still alive and are Door County residents. But the wall of appreciation is for any veteran and not limited to the county. The photos range from great-great-great-grandparents who served with Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War to a few still serving or recently returned from Afghanistan.
Some are tributes for special service, like Phil Overbeck, who won the Silver Star. Or Chuck Schommer, who was a prisoner during the Korean War.
“Not many came back from that,” Ripp said. “There’s a lot of history here. If I could just get Northern Door veterans, this room would be filled.”
Most so far are from Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door. His hope is for Northern Door families to send or bring in their veterans photos so he can surround the entire lounge. They don’t have to be patrons of the Nightingale, but veterans who do visit the lounge or dining room said they appreciate the photos.
Dick Schuster, a patron who served in the Air Force in 1967, brought in a photos of himself and his dad, who served in World War II. He said the Remembrance Wall is a good idea for Door County.
“It would be nice if the rest of the veterans would do it,” Schuster said. “If the rest would join in, we would fill these walls. There are an awful lot of vets who just aren’t here.”
Bartender Julie Savage said she enjoys seeing the photos people bring in and diners also find it interesting to browse the gallery.
“I think it’s neat to see these older gentlemen when they were 18,” Savage said.
To participate, bring a photo with the veteran's name, date of service, and branch served, to the Nightingale Supper Club, 1541 Egg Harbor Road.
John Tong Jr. and his father are among the veterans whose photos appear on Nightingale Supper Club's wall. They were misidentified in the original version of this story, published May 18, 2013.
Contact Ramelle Bintz at rbintz@doorcountyadvocate