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Hometown Hero: Army photojournalist Tom Wiltzius finds new ways to pay it forward

Hometown Heroes

Appleton, Wis. (WFRV) – “If I had to do anything all over again in Vietnam, it’s something I would have chosen to do.”

Telling the stories of his fellow soldiers through photographs; That’s what Tom Wiltzius was tasked with for 13 months in Vietnam.

“My primary goal was to give exposure to the other young men that were there so that they would be appreciated within their home towns. So, I did a lot of personal interest types of photography and stories and sent them to the editors of home town newspapers,” said Wiltzius. 

Though Wiltzius didn’t choose to continue journalism when he came back from serving with the Army in 1970, he did choose a career path that kept him involved with veterans; Counseling.

“The impact that I had in the service was one that said if I had to do anything with the rest of my life, I was going to spend it helping people,” Wiltzius said.

Wiltzius is one of the founding members of Veterans Village, an affordable housing community in Appleton made just for veterans. He says that when brainstorming about why this was so needed for the community, there was a common theme.

“We all began looking at the different aspects of veterans in transition and found that there was a common theme, that if they were going to make successful transitions, access to affordable housing was a key ingredient,” said Wiltzius.

So what does a veteran in transition mean exactly?

“In the service, all of their basic needs were provided for them; Housing, food, clothing, medical care,” said Wiltzius. “When you move into civilian life, that’s a huge transition because now you’re responsible for all of those items and the most costly among them is often housing,” he said.

Veterans Village hopes to expand, adding 40 more units to house veterans in the next few years.

For Wiltzius, it’s all about continuing to help those he calls family.

“As a veteran myself and as a counselor, I’ve seen many veterans of all ages who are struggling to be independent and self sufficient,” Wiltzius said. “When I see them come into a place like this where there’s affordable housing and that allows them to become more independent, more self sufficient, it’s really a good feeling to know that I and others have helped our brothers and sisters who wore the uniform,” he said.

Have someone you’d like to nominate for Hometown Hero? Let us know below!

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