The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) announced Aug. 9 that after more than two decades of effort, at least one photo has been found for each of the 58,281 service members whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Vietnam.
In the fall of 2001, an initial short-term effort was made to collect photos of those on the wall, with a larger, more concerted effort launched in the fall of 2009. Since then, hundreds of volunteers and family members submitted photos for the effort. The volunteers found the photos in different ways.
“When VVMF began this effort, the goal was to put a face with a name for each of the 58,281 service members whose names are on the wall. To ensure that visitors to the Wall understand that behind every name is a face – a person with a story of family and friends who have been forever changed by their loss. Today, the Wall of Faces tells these stories through photos and memories left by friends and family members. We could not have done this without the tenacious work of a small army of volunteers across the country. Their ingenuity, commitment and dedication are tremendous,” said Jim Knotts, President and CEO of VVMF.
Now that this phase is complete, volunteers continue to search for higher quality photos and add memories to show the full story behind each name. The public is invited to view the photos on the Wall of Faces and add memories so that fuller stories can begin to emerge about each of the fallen heroes.
Janna Hoehn started working on the project in 2011 with a photo she had a connection to – the name she randomly came up with when she first visited The Wall in Washington DC. She then started with Maui’s Dead 42 – where she resides. Buoyed by this success, she moved to her hometown in California, and then across the state. Hoehn contacted newspapers in each county where photos were needed. Soon after, she began working across the country. She formed a team of like-minded volunteers who joined her efforts, and they all had their own way of finding photos. However, Hoehn made many emotional phone calls to family members not just to ask for a photo, but to find out more about their lost loved ones.
“I’m grateful to every volunteer, every newspaper that has agreed to do a story for a little lady from Hawaii. I’m proud of my work on this project and I’ll never forget that time in my life,” Hoehn said.
Andrew Johnson began working on the photo search in 2014. As a newspaper publisher in Wisconsin, he knew that community newspapers across the country could contribute significantly to the missing photo search effort. Johnson invited VVMF to speak at a National Newspaper Association convention. In 2016, his newspaper published a special section that displayed the entire Wisconsin Wall of Faces — the first publication of its kind — and raised awareness in other states where photos were still needed. Johnson’s connection is personal. He is the Gold Star sire of 1LT David Johnson, KIA in Afghanistan in January 2012.
“It was an honor to serve our great republic by honoring our Vietnam era heroes by finding their photos. While working on the project, many Vietnam veterans hugged me and let me know how much they loved my son and would never forget him because they were often forgotten. In turn, I always said to them, ‘welcome home, you and your fallen military buddies will never be forgotten,'” Johnson said.
David Hine became involved in 2009 when he learned about the effort from a VVMF newsletter. He already had photos of 11 Indiana heroes he could post right away, since his hometown had hosted The Wall That Heals a few years prior. His photo hunt always started at the listed record house, as each newspaper in his hometown would usually have the obituary that lists surviving family members as well as schools attended. Finding parents or siblings has always been the best solution.
“My most memorable story came from contacting the daughter-in-law of a deceased service member to find out that her husband had never seen a photo of her father. I was able to get a high school photo and then a military photo and provide it, not only to the Wall of Faces, but also to the family,” Hine said.
Herb Reckinger began researching photos of Minnesotans in 2014. He has worked with the Minnesota Historical Society as well as many loyal city and school librarians. After Minnesota was completed, it expanded to other states.
“While I was at a stop from The Wall That Heals, a local veteran asked me to find his friend’s name on The Wall. I asked him if he wanted to see his picture. After looking at his friend on the Wall of Faces, he had a line for me – “I forgot what he looked like,” Reckinger said. Another face remembers.
Steve and Annie Delp began representing VVMF and the Wall of Faces Project at Vietnam Unit Meetings in 2013. It soon became apparent that the attendees – Vietnam veterans and their families – wanted to help piece together the missing photos. . The Delps made it their mission to get the photos, clean them up, and add them to the Wall of Faces.
“At one point a small Bible was left for us with 30 names inside. After some research, it was found that 25 of the 30 names were KIA. I’m happy to report that all 25 now have at least one good photo,” said Steve Delp.
Norman Murray attended the Veterans Day ceremony at the wall in 2014 and met Annie Delp. His voluntary work has been an inspiration to him. He returned home to western New York to begin his quest to find families, directories, and newspaper clippings of western New Yorkers. In 2016, he worked with a public relations and advertising class from Buffalo State and The Buffalo News, as well as another researcher who had quietly collected obituaries of deceased people.
“Interestingly, my fellow researcher obtained the final Western New York photo by purchasing a high school yearbook on eBay, as neither the school nor the public library had a copy in their archives” , Murray said.
John Thomstatter got involved in 2016 after hearing about the effort. With the help of his fellow VVA Chapter 1036 members in The Villages, Florida, he led a team to find the photos of all Florida service members on The Wall. Chapter 1036 enlisted other VVA chapters in Florida.
“I was lucky enough to find the last photo to finish Pennsylvania, my home state,” Thomstatter said.
The wall of faces features a page dedicated to honoring and remembering each person whose name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This effort further preserves the legacy of those who sacrificed everything in Vietnam and allows the family and friends to share memories, post photos and connect with each other.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) is the non-profit organization that founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington D.C. in 1982. The VVMF continues to lead the way in honoring Vietnam veterans from our country and their families.