There are 64 faceless Georgians who died during the Vietnam War.
Janna Hoehn wants to put a face to the dead. Their names are etched onto the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., but Hoehn fears their photographed faces could fade and be lost to history.
She and a handful of other volunteers across the country have made it their mission to find pictures of the 58,000 who died during Vietnam and display their photos online with the “Wall of Faces” project. Hoehn has gone sleuthing state by state and collected 7,000 pictures. Now, she has started work on Georgia’s veterans and needs help.
There are 11 from Fulton County without a picture, two from Cobb County and one each from Cherokee County, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. The others are scattered throughout the state.
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Once found, their pictures are displayed on the website of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces. The group dedicated the 250-foot memorial wall in Washington, D.C. in 1982.
When Hoehn joined the effort to find photos eight years ago, there were 32,000 photos missing. Now, she and her team of about a dozen — mostly Vietnam veterans — only needed to locate the final 727 pictures as of Tuesday.
The pictures collected so far show shirtless muscle men in bucket hats, clean-cut faces with wide eyes, and grainy shots of soldiers posing with rifles.
Hoehn said she has been interviewed by hundreds of newspapers trying to get the word out to relatives and survivors who may have a missing photo.
“It takes real detective work to figure this all out,” said Hoehn. She said researchers like her usually find success by learning where the deceased went to high school and then asking someone in the state to track down a yearbook.
But there’s a large gap for African-American soldiers who attended schools that didn’t have yearbooks. “Nobody could afford to buy one so they just didn’t do one,” she said.
The military did take photos of soldiers going off to war, but sometimes they can’t be located and often the quality of the decades-old pictures is so poor that Hoehn said it doesn’t honor the sacrifice they made.
“I do not wish for anyone to feel badly that their loved one (or) friend is not listed or forgotten,” she said.
The 63-year-old works as a florist in Maui, Hawaii. She has no connection to Vietnam, but she graduated high school as the roughly 20-year war that the U.S. got involved in more directly in the 1960s. She said part of her drive to find the photos is making up for the mistreatment some soldiers received when they came back from the controversial war, which ended in 1975.
“I still remember how the Vietnam vets were treated when they returned … it was horrible,” she said.
This whole part of her life began when she and her husband took a trip to the nation’s capital. They stopped by the memorial wall. She got fixated on one name, researched him and eventually found a photo of him, which she put in a scrapbook.
Two years later, she heard that the group behind the wall was looking for pictures, so she submitted hers. The organization reached out, asking her for help finding more photos. Seven thousand photos later and with only several hundred to go, Hoehn said she remains committed to doing right by those who died for their country.
“We will never forget any of them,” she said.
Hoehn is also asking for Georgia “boots on the ground” volunteers who can do research at local libraries. Anyone interested can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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