Push continues to collect photos of Vietnam vets on The Wall
JANESVILLE—Eighteen young men from Janesville paid dearly during the Vietnam War.
They died in South Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin from 1967-70. Like more than 58,000 other casualties, their names are etched in granite on The Wall in Washington, D.C.
But who will remember their faces?
Everyone, if Andrew Johnson has his way.
The publisher of the Dodge County Pioneer is behind a recent push to locate photos of every service member on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
So far, pictures have been found for most of the state's 1,160 or so fallen vets. Families and friends are invited to send photos of 147 others who still have no photos. They include SSgt. Alvin Halverson and Maj. John Kessinger, both of Janesville.
All photos will be part of “The Wall of Faces,” a lasting tribute at the new education center next to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
Johnson, who is active in state and national newspaper groups, decided to use his influence to spread the word.
“I hope people will come forward and help find all the photos,” Johnson said. “Submitting a photo tells so much more of the story about the soldiers. It's so important to do it now while people are still alive who knew the soldiers.”
The Mayville man has a personal reason for getting behind the effort. His son 1st Lt. David Johnson was killed in January 2012 while fighting in Afghanistan.
When the Army brought David's body home for a memorial service, Vietnam vets led the procession with motorcycles. They lined the entryway of the building where his body was taken with flags. They also led the procession when the 24-year-old was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
“Vietnam veterans took exceptionally good care of my family during the funeral and after,” Andrew Johnson said. “At the time, all I could do is thank them. Later, it came to mind that newspapers could really help them find pictures of missing soldiers.”
Johnson brought the issue to the Wisconsin and national newspaper associations earlier this year. Both have gotten behind the project.
“We would like to renew a big effort on Veterans Day to make the public aware of the remaining missing photos,” Johnson said. “The goal would be to find all of them by Memorial Day next year.”
Vietnam Veteran Tom Stehura of Janesville said it is important to have photos of everyone on The Wall.
“When you see a photo of a young man or woman who gave their lives in Vietnam, it means more in your mind and heart,” Stehura said. “We should do whatever we can to get those photos.”
Vietnam veterans honor both living and dead military personnel when they come home.
“We don't want them to get the same treatment we got when we came home,” Stehura said. “We were spit on, yelled at and called baby killers.”
Stehura returned from Vietnam in 1969 and did not tell anyone he was a Vietnam veteran until 1980.
“Some gave everything, but the country never really appreciated the soldiers in that era,” he said. “We should do whatever we can to honor them.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.