As the nation marks Vietnam War Veterans Day, effort to find photos of all who died nears its goal
By PATRICK VARINE | The Tribune-Review, Greensburg | Published: March 29, 2021
GREENSBURG, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — On March 29, 1973, combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam, and the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 permanently designates that date every year as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
It is a time to recognize not just the service of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, but also to acknowledge that that recognition and respect did not happen for many of them upon their return home.
"They didn't get the welcome home that previous eras of veterans had gotten, and anything we can do to recognize those who were lost, and those who came home, is important," said Matt Zamosky, director of the Westmoreland County Department of Veteran Affairs.
Just more than 2 million Americans served in uniform in Vietnam and southeast Asia.
"This is a day set aside to publicly thank, honor and support our Vietnam veterans and their families for their incredible service and sacrifice," said Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, Pennsylvania's adjutant general and head of the state's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA).
Over the course of the war, more than 47,000 combat troops, and more than 58,000 Americans in total, lost their lives. They are memorialized not just on the national Vietnam Wall monument in Washington, D.C., but also through the digital Wall of Faces project, which now includes photos of all 3,150 Pennsylvanians who lost their lives during the war.
Over a four-year period, the DMVA partnered with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to track down photos of everyone whose name appears on the "The Wall."
In Westmoreland, that fell to Zamosky and former clerk Megan Wilford, who spent hours digging through local resources including military records and high school yearbooks as well as working with regional funeral homes, cemeteries and historical societies.
"She jumped in with both feet and was tenacious about tracking down those names," Zamosky said.
In 2019, state officials announced that photos of all Pennsylvania's Vietnam dead had been located and added to the Wall of Faces.
Sometimes the connection was made in unexpected places: a maintenance worker who cleans the Westmoreland VA office in the evenings turned out to be the great nephew of Army veteran Raymond Feld of Grapeville, who was killed in action in January 1969.
Others, including Frank Hiteshue, proved even more difficult: Wilford said he was an only child, his obituary did not list any aunts or uncles and he graduated from a place — Penn Joint High School — that no longer exists.
Nationwide, fewer than 80 photos are needed to complete the Wall of Faces.
Regardless of whether their photo is available, Schindler said their memory needs preserved.
"Today, we need to take time out of our own lives to remember theirs," he said. "Those who have fallen, and those who are our own relatives, neighbors or community members. We want every Vietnam veteran to know just how much their bravery and sacrifices are appreciated — not just on March 29, but every day of the year."
Zamosky said the Wall of Faces is a unique way to pay tribute that could not have happened just a few decades ago.
"The Vietnam Wall, to me, was the first (war) memorial that really had a personal feel to it," he said. "So to be able to engage it online and put a face to those names is kind of amazing, and it's something that could really only happen now."
See VVMF.org to visit the Wall of Faces project.
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