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Never forget volunteer seeking photos for Vietnam memorial

American Flag (Unsplash/Lucas Sankey)
February 18, 2018

One photo at a time, Janna Hoehn is honoring the Americans who died in the Vietnam War.

The longtime resident of Hawaii is a volunteer for the Wall of Faces project, which is collecting photos for every American killed in Vietnam. Those photos will be submitted to an online memorial on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website, and they will be part of a proposed education center next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Putting a face with a name changes the whole dynamic of the Wall,” Hoehn said, referring to the memorial. “It keeps our fallen heroes’ memories alive and will honor them. Our heroes’ stories and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

The project started with a search for 58,315 photos — one for every person whose name is etched on the memorial — and volunteers have collected 54,891 so far. But they are trying to find better-quality photos of several of those men.

Hoehn said the project has located photos of 15 Pontotoc County men who died in Vietnam, including Carl R. Ward Jr. Ward’s photo was taken when he was in sixth grade, and Hoehn is trying to find a more recent photo — perhaps from high school or basic training.

A soldier in the U.S. Army, Ward died Aug. 2, 1969, in Binh Duong Province in south Vietnam.

Hoehn said she knows that Ward has relatives in Ada, but she hasn’t been able to contact them.

Hoehn is also looking for additional photos of the following Pontotoc County veterans:

• Raymond Thurman of Ada, who was born in 1948 and died in 1969. The project has a photo that accompanied Thurman’s obituary but needs another one.

• Ada resident William D. Mullins, who was born in 1933 and died in 1966. The project has a high-school photo of Mullins but is seeking a more recent picture.

• Dennis V. Johnston of Ada, who was born in 1951 and died in 1970. The project has Johnston’s obituary photo but would like a better-quality picture.

• John C. Deaton of Stonewall, who was born in 1947 and died in 1969. The project has a good-quality photo of Deaton, but Hoehn is hoping to find one that shows him looking directly at the camera.

All five men served in the U.S. Army, but additional details of their military service were not immediately available.

Anyone who can help Hoehn with her search is welcome to contact her, she said.

“If anyone is related, a friend or a classmate to any of the young men on the list, I would very much appreciate hearing from you,” she said. “Even if you don’t have a photo but know which school any of these young men attended, it would be so helpful.”

Hoehn said she is also looking for volunteers in Pontotoc County who could serve as her “boots on the ground,” which could mean visiting the library to search for obituaries or the local high school to comb through yearbooks.

Remembering fallen veterans

Hoehn visited the Vietnam Memorial eight years ago, when she and her husband made their first trip to Washington, D.C. The memorial was the first item on her must-see list because the Vietnam War was underway while she was in high school.

“Even though I never knew anyone killed in Vietnam, I wanted a rubbing of one of the names,” she said. “I approached the Wall and chose a name — Gregory John Crossman, an MIA.”

When Hoehn returned home, she decided she would try to find Crossman’s family. She thought if Crossman’s relatives were unable to visit the memorial, she would send them a copy of the etching in hopes that they would send her a photo of Crossman.

Hoehn researched the topic off and on for six months, but she was unable to find Crossman’s family. She asked her cousin, who served as her family’s historian, for assistance. Six weeks later, Hoehn’s cousin unearthed a college photo of Crossman.

Two years after the discovery, Hoehn saw a news story about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Wall of Faces project. She immediately sent Crossman’s photo to the project and received a thank-you email from founder Jan Scruggs five days later.

Hoehn said Scruggs asked her to help find photos for 42 soldiers from Maui County, Hawaii, who were killed in Vietnam.

“I replied, ‘It would be an honor,” Hoehn said. “I have always hoped I could do something for the Vietnam veterans as the way they were treated when they returned, it was disgraceful. Here was my chance.”

Hoehn spent six months paging through phone books to find the soldiers’ names, calling their families and combing through their high school yearbooks. She enlisted the help of the Maui News, which published articles about Hoehn’s search and a list of the photos she needed every six weeks.

“Every time they ran a story, I would receive another photo or two,” Hoehn said. “After six months of searching, I had a photo of every fallen hero from Maui County.”

Once she had all 42 photos, she put them in a display. She traveled across Maui with the display, giving presentations to high schools, libraries and civic organizations.

Continuing the search

But Hoehn didn’t stop with Maui. She moved on to her hometown of Hemet, California, and located photos of the five soldiers from her childhood home.

Hoehn has personally collected more than 6,000 photos for the Wall of Faces project since 2011 and has helped complete photo searches in 11 states. All photos will be submitted to the Wall of Faces online memorial and will be part of the proposed Education Center at the national memorial.

Hoehn said locating images for the project is a challenging, sometimes frustrating task. Records may be missing. The veteran’s parents may have died or moved to another state. Siblings may have moved, gotten married or changed their names.

Another problem: The veteran’s ties to their hometown aren’t always clear.

“Sometimes the home of record doesn’t mean that’s where they actually grew up,” Hoehn said. “It means that’s where they enlisted, and the military actually made that their home of record. So sometimes, that makes it a little more difficult to find these photos.”

But Hoehn and her other researchers keep digging in their quest for photos. She said the volunteers are doing their best, but finding some photos is extremely difficult.

“Any volunteer that is working on this project is really trying to find every single photo,” she said. “We don’t know if we’re going to find everyone, but we’re sure giving it our best shot.”

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© 2018 The Ada News (Ada, Okla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.