If you ever thought the Vietnam War Memorial was powerful and moving in and of itself, think of putting a picture to each of those 58,286 names. That is the goal of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization behind the Washington, D.C. monument.
The photos will comprise the Wall of Faces, an exhibit that will open as part of the Education Center. The center will be located underground in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial and adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
As of this week, the VVMF has nearly 34,000 pictures of fallen soldiers, all of which can be currently viewed on the online memorial.
Nevada County had 11 men that were killed or went missing in the Vietnam War — and images for four of these soldiers are still needed.
Janna Hoehn, a Maui, Hawaii, resident, has been working diligently for three years to track down the photos of those listed as killed or missing in action.
A Southern California native, Hoehn’s journey began five years ago on a visit to the wall where she selected a name at random to etch.
“I approached the wall and chose a name, Gregory John Crossman, an MIA. When I returned home, I decided to research Gregory and try and find his family in the event they were never able to go to the wall, and I could send them the etching, hoping they would share a photo of Gregory.”
Hoehn searched for six months and after enlisting the help of her cousin (the family historian), she was able to track down a college photo of Crossman.
Two years later, she saw a “call for photos” on the local news.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund had begun its search to put a face to every name on the wall.
She sent in her picture of Crossman and five days later received an email from Jan Scruggs, the founder and president of the fund.
He was the driving force behind the creation of the wall, launching the effort with $2,800 of his own money. Scruggs wanted Hoehn’s help in locating pictures of the 42 Maui County soldiers who were killed in Vietnam.
“I told him it would be an honor,” she said. “They deserve to be honored. They deserve to be remembered, and I feel like I’m righting a wrong. They didn’t get the honor they deserved when they came home. I have always hoped I could do something for the Vietnam veterans. Here was my chance.”
The task proved more difficult than Hoehn originally anticipated. When men and women enlisted for service, their homes of record was given as where they enlisted, not necessarily where they were from. It is also common for last names to have changed, as widows and siblings married.
Hoehn found a handful of photos through phone books, another few from high school yearbooks and still a few more from archived obituaries. It wasn’t until she went to the Maui News that her work really began to pay off.
The paper ran a front-page article about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and Educational Center, then re-ran the list of names every six weeks until she gathered pictures of all 42 soldiers.
But she didn’t stop there. Once Hoehn finished with Maui, she moved on to her hometown of Hemet, where she located the families of six more soldiers.
She is making her way through all the counties in California and has received more than 500 photos since June.
Though she located Crossman’s photo, she was never able to find his family. She did, however, find family, and images, for a seventh Nevada County soldier last week, Alan R. Haugen (leaving four more to be found).
“Janna is but one of dozens of Faces Never Forgotten ‘team leaders’ that we have throughout the nation,” Tim Tetz, VVMF director of outreach, said.
“We could not afford to hire enough staff to replicate the time-consuming efforts of people like Janna. Therefore, we have a team that recruits and assists them. We look for these individuals throughout the country, and they come to us because of a tie to a group or organization. Whatever the personal tie, we enable them and support them to whatever level we can. Few do it on the level of Janna, and for that we’re very grateful.”
According to Tetz, the Wall of Faces was first announced in an initiative with the White House in 1998, rising from the realization by visitors to the wall that each of those names had faces.
“In some way, through looking into the faces, we could open the minds of visitors to the real men and women listed on that cold black granite,” he said.
In 2003, when the legislation enabling the Education Center became law, the vision of the Wall of Faces began to emerge. The legislation for the center mandates that the entire cost must be in hand before construction can begin.
They hope to have accumulated $115 million by 2016 in order to begin construction, with a tentative 2018 opening. The fund has received $27 million in contributions for the center, which will also serve to memorialize and honor those who’ve perished in the War on Terror.
“The wall has a special significance for this new generation of heroes, too,” Tetz said.
“The Vietnam generation has done wonders to make certain the newer warrior has not been forgotten or treated in the same way they were.
“This is but one more small gesture until this latest generation can have their own memorial on the mall.”
Images for the Wall of Faces can be sent to Hoehn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures can also be taken to The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the wall, which will be on display next week on the west steps of the Capitol in Sacramento.
The exhibit will be open Feb. 27 through March 2. Tetz will be on hand every day and will have the ability to scan images for the Wall of Faces.
For more information about the Wall of Faces, Education Center or Wall That Heals, go to www.vvmf.org.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer.
“(Vietnam veterans) deserve to be honored. They deserve to be remembered, and I feel like I’m righting a wrong.”