A sense of belonging is important to Kim Queen.
The Mequon resident served 44 years in the U.S. Army. His service started in 1968, and he put in a year in Vietnam. When he returned home, Queen joined the National Guard and was commissioned as an officer. He served on active duty multiple times before he retired in 2012.
A significant part of military service is camaraderie, he said. The “U.S.” stands not just for “United States,” Queen said, but also for “us” as a team.
He continues to serve his country today, but in a different way. Now, he is the commander of the Wisconsin department of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.
He joined the organization when he returned from Vietnam. Queen said his future father-in-law belonged to a post his uncle started shortly after World War I.
Queen said in the past, some people who served kept their Jewish faith to themselves. Jewish soldiers in World War II, for example, did so to protect themselves in case they were captured, he said.
“No matter where you go, there’s some antisemitism,” he said.
As time passed, Queen said he came to think of himself as a representative for the Jewish faith and thought he could educate others about Jewish traditions.
The national JWV organization dates back to March 15, 1896. At that time, 63 Jewish veterans from the Civil War gathered in New York City to form the Hebrew Union Veterans. The meeting was in response to outcry that Jews hadn’t come to America’s defense during the war.
Over the years, the group’s name has morphed until it reached its current form in 1929.
Queen said Wisconsin’s first post was founded around 1922 in the Milwaukee area. The state used to have posts in cities like Green Bay, Wausau, Rhinelander, La Crosse and Madison.
Now, Queen said, just three posts are left in the state, and they’re all in the Milwaukee area.
The organization, which has about 120 members in Wisconsin, allows Queen to connect with people who have had similar experiences to his own.
Ron Laux, for example, is the department’s senior vice commander. He said he participates because JWV allows him to both represent veterans and help them. In addition to social events, Laux said the organization also provides services, like helping veterans access their benefits.
Laux, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, served during the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1969. Like Queen, he found JWV through family. Laux said he joined on the recommendation of his brother-in-law, although he wasn’t active with the group until later.
The Wisconsin department of JWV participates in activities tied to Jewish holidays, such as Sukkah-Fest with Chabad of Mequon. The organization also sponsors events, like a speaker program of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Through the organization, Queen said he feels a sense of belonging and has an avenue to work in the Jewish community to help other veterans.
“We are Jewish, and that’s important,” Queen said.
For more information about the Wisconsin department of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, contact Kim Queen at 414-313-0297 or Rocksog@SbcGlobal.net