Wisconsin Remembers: A Face for Every Name Recap
On Feb. 1, 2018, more than 35 community members (many of them Vietnam veterans, including Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel) turned out to learn about the challenges of finding the final 400 photos for each of the 1,162 Wisconsinites listed on the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial.Four of the key participants talked about their work: Gold Star Mother Laura Johnson, Gold Star Father Andrew Johnson, UW-Milwaukee journalism lecturer Jessica McBride, and former UW-Milwaukee journalism student Dylan Deprey.
The lecture was held in conjunction with the exhibit Wisconsin Remembers: A Face for Every Name, which is part of the national effort to find a photo for each o f the 53,318 names listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The photos will be displayed in the education center being planned by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the National Parks Service. Eventually, all the photos will be displayed in the center, a planned two-story underground structure near the Wall.
Students Led the Way
The Faces project began in Wisconsin about 10 years ago. Much of the early work to find the Wisconsin photos was done by Medford, Wis., native Bryce Kelley, starting in 2007. A Medford Area Middle School teacher at the time, Bryce assigned each of his 8th graders a name and together with other volunteers across the state, found about 500 photos of the Wisconsin soldiers killed in Vietnam.
Laura and Andrew Johnson would join the project in 2014 for very personal reasons. In 2012, their son, 24-year-old U.S. Army 1st lieutenant David Johnson was killed in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered after encountering an improvised explosive device (IED). David was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Andrew says he appreciated the support from the veteran community – especially from the Vietnam veterans – following David’s death. Andrew heard about the project in January 2014 through Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television and wanted to help.
Taking advantage of his reach throughout the state as publisher of the Dodge County Pionier Express and former regional director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Andrew enlisted the help of the state community newspapers to track down the remaining 450 photos.
By the beginning of 2016, Andrew and his team had found all of them but 64 photos. After hearing about the project from Andrew at a WPA convention, UW-Milwaukee lecturer Jessica McBride decided to take the challenge of finding the last photos to two of her investigative journalism classes. In February, the students were given two names to track down – and they had one semester to do it. While more of the remaining soldiers had been from Milwaukee County, in many cases, their relatives were not in the area anymore, so the research was often far-flung and tedious, with students following leads and combing through yearbooks and telephone books.
Within three months, the classes had tracked down all but one photo – for Pvt. Willie Bedford, a young Marine from Milwaukee who drowned in Vietnam in 1970. Willie had a large family, but none of them had a photo of him. After retracing some steps, the student who was researching him found a single yearbook photo. The story about the search caught the attention of Willie’s former girlfriend, who got in touch with his family and introduced them to his daughter.
With the location of Willie Bedford’s photo, Wisconsin became the fifth – and the fastest – state to find all its veteran photos. As of Feb. 1, 3,613 photos of the total 58,318 names listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are still missing. The hope it to find all the photos by Memorial Day this year.
To see the online Wall of Faces – and find out which ones are missing please visit The Wall of Faces web site.