Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
By Greg Bates
Special for Operation Fan Mail
Mike Colligan’s dad passed away when he was just 13 years old.
It was 59 years to the day that Colligan stood on the sideline at Lambeau Field and looked up at the scoreboard to see himself honored by the Green Bay Packers and WPS Health Solutions prior to the team’s preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 19.
Surrounded by his wife, Genny, and his two daughters, Molly and Caitlin, Colligan stood proudly in the football shrine.
Colligan, a Vietnam War veteran, was being honored as a recipient of the Operation Fan Mail program and given four tickets to the Packers game. The award is presented by WPS and the Packers.
Colligan said his overall experience attending the Packers game was a “10.”
“It was a pretty emotional night, let’s put it that way,” he said.
His friend and fellow Vietnam War partner John Hofer nominated Colligan for the award. He was happy to see him get recognized.
“I know he’s a big Packers fan and that’s why I wanted to do this for him,” Hofer said. “He just deserved it.”
Hofer added, “He just wishes his dad could have been alive to see this. He thought about him on the field. A lot of emotions. He’s an emotional guy. He cries. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Colligan’s dad had a big influence on his life at a young age. He explained, “The whole night was the best, but being out there on the field when they run out of the tunnel [was] pretty exciting. I didn’t expect them to run out of the tunnel, and they ran right by us.”
Into the heat of the battle
After his dad died, Colligan had to help provide for his family. He left Wild Rose High School and picked potatoes. Just a few years later, as a 20-year-old, Colligan was thrust into battle in Vietnam.
He served in the United States Army as a machine gunner. He was in the Charlie Company 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry Americal Division.
Stationed in the I Corps region, his division’s base camp was located in Chu Lai, Vietnam. Colligan, an E4 rank, was in the 196th brigade, serving in the war for 11 months from the beginning of July 1970 to the end of May 1971.
His time in Vietnam helped shape his entire life.
“Oh, it did drastically,” Colligan said. “It made you grow up real quick. I was kind of an idiot and came back a better person—that’s a fact.”
Since the war, Colligan’s service to his country and fellow soldiers has never ended.
“He’s taken care of guys that he served with in his company. He drove all the way down to Georgia to help a double amputee fix up his house,” Hofer said. “Another guy that was dying of cancer, he showed up and got another couple guys and they just surprised him and wanted to see him before he was gone. Just incredible.”
Life after the service
When Colligan returned to Wild Rose following his service in the Vietnam War, he got into trucking.
He delivered for Kimberly-Clark until 1995 when the company laid off hundreds of workers. Colligan quickly took another trucking job and, in 2000, that company was bought by FedEx. He retired as a FedEx freight driver in 2011.
Three years later, Colligan opened a storage unit business just outside of Wild Rose. The business has grown and now has four buildings with 25,000 square feet of rentable space.
In 1990, the Colligans made a life-altering decision to get into foster care. The couple started taking in children. In March 1991, they adopted 2-month-old Molly.
Four months later, Colligan’s wife found out she was pregnant. One day short of a year after adopting Molly, Caitlin was born.
Over the next 23 years, the Colligans immersed themselves in foster care, taking in over 60 kids.
“After he retired from doing that, the state called him because they had a Native American that they thought Mike could just work so well with him—that’s the kind of guy that he is, him and his wife, Genny,” Hofer said. “They’re very generous people to step in and do this.”
It was always important for the Colligans to play an important part in the lives of kids less fortunate with their family arrangements.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs, because some of the kids you had real lows because we weren’t getting anywhere with the kids and some kids did well,” Colligan said. “When they did, it made you feel pretty good.”
It was almost an addiction for the family to continually bring in new kids to live at their house. Most times there were anywhere from one to four foster kids staying at the Colligans’ place.
“Once you got into it, it was you just did it,” Colligan said. “Days went by, and years went by.”
The Colligans still keep in close contact with most of the foster kids they housed over the years.
Recently, Colligan received a call from a boy who lived with the family when he was growing up.
“He called me up one day and he said, ‘Do you have a suit?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’” Colligan recalled. “He said, ‘Because I’m getting married and you’re going to stand up in my wedding as my father and you need to have a suit.’ I said, ‘Chris, I’ve got a suit.’”
Colligan enjoys giving back, and foster care was a prime example of his dedication to others.
“It’s just a good feeling,” he said.
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