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Finding photos of fallen Vietnam vets not without problems

Earlier this month Wailea resident Janna Hoehn thought she and her friends had found photographs of all 277 Hawaii Vietnam War veterans killed in combat, enabling all the photographs to be memorialized online.

But that was not the case.

The photo the group obtained of their last and long-sought solider, Felicisimo A. Hugo, was actually a photo of Andres Bonifacio, the first president of the Philippine archipelago, who died in 1897. Bonifacio’s photo was featured on Page A1 accompanying a Feb. 9 Maui News story about Hoehn finding all 277 photographs. Bonifacio was a “national hero,” according to a Maui News reader who alerted the newspaper to the error.

The Bonifacio photo had come to Hoehn’s friend and fellow photo-finder Dan Brodt after he contacted the Philippine Embassy for help. Brodt, who is retired from the Secret Service and lives in Maryland, said he was told Tuesday that the incorrect photo came from Manila.

Just a day after the story was published and the error was found, Brodt located the correct photo of Hugo that will eventually be placed in Washington, D.C.

“Because of this mess, I could not sleep and spent all last night searching and searching for Hugo,” Brodt said in an email a day after the error was reported.

He searched again and found that Army records had the wrong Infantry Company assigned to Hugo, which was the major problem in trying to locate Hugo’s photo.

Brodt combed through hundreds of photos before being able to link Hugo’s name and photo together last week shortly after the error was discovered.

Locating what turned out to be an incorrect photo shows how difficult it is to find photos, some more than 40 years old.

“Janna and I spend hours, days and weeks on just researching (one) name. There are many factors that contribute to this intensive research. When I entered the Army in 1967 as a draftee, then enlisted for Ranger training, my picture was taken at least (three) times within a month of being drafted,” said Brodt in an email.

Hoehn said that when she heard her last photo of the Hawaii solider was the wrong one, her “heart just sank.”

“It was so hard for me,” Hoehn said via email, sharing it took her and friends such as Brodt, “hours and hours of research. I was so upset.”

“With what happened . . . now you know how difficult this project can be. If you cannot find family, you have to try other avenues . . . high schools, obituaries. This one was one of the most difficult. When you have someone whom was raised in another country, (it is) almost impossible,” Hoehn added.

She previously said that Hugo was an immigrant to Hawaii from the Philippines. Searchers only had the date and name of the ship Hugo arrived on from the Philippines. The Philippine Embassy had apparently found Hugo’s application to come to the U.S. Searchers thought they received Hugo’s photo from his application, but it was the incorrect photo and searchers found out recently there is no VISA photo.

It had taken Hoehn and others, five years to find all the photos of Hawaii’s fallen in the Vietnam War. Hoehn, mainly by herself, had found Maui’s 42 fallen heroes. The photographs will go to the “Wall of Faces” online memorial with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund as well as in the future Education Center to be built adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

Hoehn said she and others have had mix-ups of photos before.

One example is when someone might post a photo from a yearbook, but there may have been two people by the same name.

“Fortunately, down the road at some point, a family member may come across the photo and let us know and provide us with the correct photo,” Hoehn said.

“Of course, we must have the correct photos to represent our fallen,” she said. “I’m very thankful for your reader alerting us to this and that we have been able to correct it.”

Hoehn is helping others find photos of veterans killed in action in the Vietnam War who resided in other states. She can be contacted at neverforgotten2014@gmail.com.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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