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Relatives of Hans Christian Heg say statue’s vandalism went too far

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Relatives of Hans Christian Heg, the Civil War veteran depicted in one of the vandalized statues Tuesday night, told 27 News that they believe the vandalism went too far.

William Newell, an Illinois man, said Col. Heg was his great uncle. He said he never got the chance to meet the man in person, but it's always been a point of pride to see him celebrated in bronze at the Wisconsin Capitol.

"He was a hero for our family. We certainly respected him and I think all of Norwegians in Wisconsin," he said.

Newell said the family would visit one of his two Wisconsin monuments every few years either in Madison, or at Heg Park in Waterford.

"It was close to home, and it was easy to do and we felt a closeness," he said.

Heg settled in Wisconsin in 1851. A Norwegian immigrant, his family established the first Scandinavian newspaper in the state and grew to prominence as politicians. Heg was a staunch advocate for prison reform.

As the Civil War approached, Heg answered President Lincoln's calls for volunteer soldiers. He later became a colonel and led an infantry of fellow Scandinavian immigrants into battle.

"He had nothing to do with slavery," Newell said. "He was fighting for the Union. He was fighting against slavery."

Heg was a lifelong abolitionist and also led an anti-slave catching militia to protect escaped slaves.

He died after the battle of Chickamauga.

"He was such a patriot and came from a family that had done a lot for the whole state of Wisconsin," Newell said.

For that reason, Newell said he doesn't understand why vandals brought the statue down, broke it in pieces and dumped it in Lake Monona.

"I think it was just kids getting carried away taking it too far," he said.

More than 150 years after Heg's death and nearly 100 years since the monument's installation at the Capitol, Newell said it's hard to say what his great uncle would think about everything that's happened.

"I think Colonel Heg would be disappointed certainly," he said.

Newell believes Heg would support police reform and Black lives but not the destruction. Moving forward, he hopes demonstrations will focus on demanding change from those who can offer it rather than those who fought for that change years ago.

"There's certainly been a lot of tension," he said. "I hope that it becomes something that we don't have to repeat every ten years or so. I hope that this will help and we'll see."

Newell said he'd like to see Madison repair the statue and put it back up at the Capitol or another prominent Wisconsin building.

He said there is a silver lining to the destruction in that people are learning more about the history behind his family's hero.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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