You Know You’re From...Kronenwetter: Tony’s Workshop

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 10:00 PM CST
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KRONENWETTER, Wis. (WSAW) - For 10 years now, Tony Kopchinski has been woodturning in his home workshop, creating wood works of art.

“I actually built this for something like this.”

But this particular week, it’s about teaching military veterans wounded in combat.

They each recalled the day their lives changed forever.

“August 25, 2005. We were in Tikrit (Iraq). I was on a sand berm when we had a rocket come in,” said Kevin Johnson.

“May 13 of ‘06. Roadside bomb in Iraq,” recalled Michael Engel.

“April 18, 2007. I was blown up in Fallujah (Iraq),” John Chance said.

Purple heart recipients with the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation take their shot behind a lathe.

“It’s more of the sense of creating things when all you were taught to do in the military was destroy stuff,” said Chance, who served in the Marine Corp.

“A lot more smiling with sawdust in their teeth,” Kopchinski said laughing.

All three are medically retired. Chance and Engel have been here before.

“It’s peaceful and quiet to me,” Engel said, an Army veteran from Clintonville. “Even though there’s so much noise, it’s just fun.”

“I didn’t enjoy much of anything at the time and I got over here and it was one of the most relaxing things I’d ever done,” Chance said. “This kind of saved my life in a sense.”

Kevin Johnson has been a part of the WWIA since 2011. But he’s a rookie inside ‘Tony’s Workshop.’

“This has been an experience,” the Army and Air Force veteran said. “They say I’m actually kind of a natural with my touch with it.”

When they leave this place, they’ll walk out with more than just splinters and keepsakes.

“To explain it to somebody that has never been in the military, it’s a family. They’ll be my brothers forever,” said Johnson.

“It’s easier to talk to fellow veterans. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting judged, as I call it, about stuff you did,” added Engel.

“We wore the same boots. Kicked the same sand. We’re all connected in a way,” Chance said.

John has even started his own workshop in Minnesota, teaching what he’s learned. And when Tony can’t turn anymore, he’ll be ready to carry the torch.

“To be able to pass my experience on to somebody else struggling, going through the same things that I do day to day, that makes a world of difference to me.”

“I’m hoping for another 10 years, anyway,” Kopchinksi said with a smile.

Lots of wood to turn and memories to make.

“The smiles. The stories. The after-effects,” Kopchinski recalls. “Getting in touch with them a month from now, “how you doing?’ Wow, thank you.”

Tony is a veteran of the National Guard from the 60′s.

The Man of Honor Society pays for the veterans’ hotel rooms for the week. Bennett Hardwoods in Wausau donates most of the wood.

To learn more about the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation, click here.

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