When they learned of the need to track down photographs of service members from this part of Wisconsin who were killed in the Vietnam War, residents from throughout the Chippewa Valley answered the call of duty.
Organizers of the Wall of Faces project at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., are seeking about 24,000 photographs of the 58,286 service members listed on the memorial wall to complete a new electronic display. On April 6 a story detailing that effort appeared in the Leader-Telegram after the Wisconsin Newspaper Association sent a list of three service members from the Chippewa Valley whose photos were needed for the project.
Nearly 20 Chippewa Valley residents contacted the Leader-Telegram in response to that article. So far they have tracked down photos of two of those three service members: Wayne Hayes, a Marine from Menomonie who died July 6, 1967, and Frederic Styer, also of Menomonie, a soldier killed on May 28 of that year.
They also discovered a photo for Raymond DeMoe, a Marine from Elk Mound, who wasn't on the WNA list and died March 25, 1967.
Other people said they are attempting to procure a photo for another fallen service member on the list: Gerald Vizer, a Marine from Eau Claire who died May 30, 1967.
Respondents said they were prompted to hunt down photos because they felt they owed it to the troops who died fighting halfway around the world half a century ago.
"I felt this was the least I could do," said 71-year-old Eau Claire resident Gordon Holzhueter, who felt compelled to contact the newspaper on behalf of Hayes, a friend of Holzhueter's from their days at Menomonie High School.
As with Holzhueter, Dennis Westphal, 66, of Elk Mound brought photos of his high school friend Raymond DeMoe to the Leader-Telegram on Friday because he felt he owed that to DeMoe, who died when he was hit by a mortar shell while fighting in Vietnam.
"I saw the list of names and thought, 'How come he doesn't have a picture?' He deserves one," Westphal said of his close friend, who graduated with him from Elk Mound High School in 1966.
Former Eau Claire school district teacher Richard Larson, 67, said he was motivated to submit a photo of his high school classmate 1964 Menomonie High School graduate Frederic Styer to preserve Styer's memory and pay homage to the new memorial wall project.
"Anytime you can put a face with a name, it helps you remember who these people were," Larson said.
Holzhueter remembers the countless times he and his friend Wayne Hayes rolled one ball after another at the 10 pins at the end of a bowling lane in Menomonie, sharing more laughs than strikes. He recalls Hayes' outspoken nature, his willingness to question what he felt needed questioning, even if it meant challenging information a teacher told him and his Menomonie High School classmates.
Holzhueter can see Hayes as if it were yesterday, his friend's confident stride, his close-cropped crew cut. He can hear Hayes' voice cracking one witty one-liner after another.
"Look what he did," Holzhueter said playfully as he pointed to a hand-written message Hayes signed, in extra-large letters, on the back of Holzhueter's 1961 Menomonie High School yearbook. "(He) took up the whole page. He loved to joke like that."
Holzhueter also recalls Hayes' patriotism, his desire to fight for his country, to rid the world of enemies of the United States. And he remembers when his father told him, six years after the high school friends' 1961 graduation while Holzhueter, a National Guard member, was training at Fort McCoy, that Hayes, a Marine, had died while fighting in Vietnam. He was leading a platoon of men into enemy territory on July 6, 1967, when he was shot in the head.
"I wasn't surprised to hear he was out in front, leading his men," Holzhueter said while reminiscing about his friend. "He was real gung-ho about the war. He couldn't wait to get over there."
Holzhueter, a retired Coca-Cola employee, hadn't thought much about Hayes in recent years. But searching for a photo of his long-ago friend stirred many memories. As he talked about Hayes, his emotions ranged from serious to laughter. He recalled how Hayes enjoyed visiting the dairy farm west of Menomonie where Holzhueter was raised. Holzhueter's father always liked Hayes, Holzhueter said.
"We had some good times, Wayne and I," Holzhueter said. "We weren't best friends, but we were good friends. And I wanted to do something for him. I guess providing his picture is one small way to do that."
Frederic Styer wasn't Richard Larson's best friend in their days together at Menomonie High School. They didn't hang out together much, take the same classes or participate in many of the same activities.
But Larson was stung when he learned, at his 20th high school class reunion in 1984, that Styer had died 17 years earlier while fighting in Vietnam.
"I remember thinking, 'It's really sad that I didn't know about that earlier,' " Larson said Friday. "Here was this guy fighting for his country halfway around the world, this quiet, muscular guy who everybody liked because he was such a nice person, and then, just like that, he's dead."
Larson said he wasn't surprised to learn that Styer had joined the military out of high school.
"That guy looked like a Marine even before he became one," Larson said.
In subsequent years Larson was prompted to think about Styer again, this time when he attended a replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall that made a stop at Carson Park in Eau Claire during a national tour. Larson dutifully found Styer's name, etched on the wall along with more than 58,000 others preserved for people who died while fighting in Vietnam. He grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, and, holding the paper against the wall, rubbed the pencil across it, transferring the letters spelling out Styer's name onto the paper.
Last weekend, Larson felt compelled to act on behalf of Styer again. After reading the newspaper article noting a photo of his old classmate was needed to complete the Vietnam memorial project, he contacted the Leader-Telegram, offering a picture from his high school yearbook.
"Fred hasn't been forgotten, and I want to make sure it stays that way," Larson said when asked what prompted him to act on Styer's behalf.
Dennis Westphal spends almost every Memorial Day at the same small cemetery nestled in a quiet, rural Dunn County setting, honoring his friend.
As he stands before Raymond DeMoe's grave at Forest Center Cemetery, Westphal, a retired Eau Claire paper mill worker, recalls the early 1960s, when he and DeMoe were classmates at Elk Mound High School and did much together. They hunted deer. They shared the highs and lows of teenage life. They worked on cars.
"We didn't have many tools or much money, so for us, it was mostly keeping cars running," Westphal said with a laugh.
The sturdy, muscular DeMoe grew up poor, Westphal said, DeMoe's mother was in an institution, Westphal said, and his father, James, worked in the Twin Cities, leaving DeMoe to keep the family's farm operating during the week.
"He was the hardest-working person I know," Westphal said of DeMoe.
DeMoe's sturdy build made him a difficult opponent to wrestle, Westphal said.
"With all that farm work, he was just a ball of muscle," Westphal said.
During one Christmas, Westphal and a friend cut down a small pine tree, put it in DeMoe's home and decorated it, a way to brighten up the holidays for their hardworking friend.
"He never had a Christmas, and we wanted to do something nice for him," Westphal said.
DeMoe enlisted with the Marines during his senior year of high school. After he was deployed to South Vietnam he periodically sent letters to Westphal in Elk Mound describing various topics, including that country's intense warm weather.
He signed each of those letters "Gung Ho Ray."
One late-March night in 1967 Westphal received a phone call from DeMoe's father informing him his friend had been killed by a mortar shell in Vietnam. He was a pall bearer at DeMoe's funeral. Three months later, Westphal was drafted and served in Vietnam before being discharged in 1969.
When Westphal learned a photo of DeMoe was needed for the Wall of Faces project, he contacted the Leader-Telegram.
"I'm probably one of the only people who has pictures of Ray," he said. "All through the years, I made a point to keep pictures of him. Now I'm glad I did."
Andrew Johnson didn't know whether his idea to use newspapers to spread the word nationwide about deceased Vietnam veterans missing photos would work.
He still doesn't.
But Johnson, the publisher of the Dodge County Pionier newspaper in Mayville, knows that the effort to locate those photos has at least begun. And he knows that work will help keep alive not only the memories of those veterans but that of his son, Army Lt. David Johnson, 24, who was killed while fighting in Afghanistan in January 2012.
Johnson was overwhelmed by the support of Vietnam veterans and others since his son died. He knew he wanted to give back somehow, but he didn't know how.
Then he had an idea: Use newspapers to spread the word about the missing photos needed to make the Wall of Faces project at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial a reality.
Johnson took his plan to memorial officials, who backed it, and then to newspaper associations in each state, asking them to send lists of missing troop photos to newspapers in those states. He hoped people would read about the initiative and send photos to those newspapers, who would, in turn, send them to newspaper associations and on to memorial officials.
"To hear that is starting to happen is really exciting," Johnson said. "It is important to remember these soldiers, and this project is one way to do that."