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Mission complete: Photos of all veterans on Vietnam memorial have been found

Maui woman plays part in finding photos of 58,281 service members

Launiupoko resident Janna Hoehn holds the second-to-the-last photo that needed to be found for the Wall of Faces, which contains photos of each of the 58,281 service members whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On Tuesday, the final photo was found. Photo courtesy Janna Hoehn

After more than two decades and a herculean effort by a Maui woman, photos of all service members whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial have been found.

The last photo of the 58,281 service members was found on Tuesday, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

A few days earlier, Launiupoko resident Janna Hoehn and her team found the second-to-the-last photo, officials from the memorial fund confirmed.

Hoehn began her journey 11 years ago when she sought to find photos of all 42 Maui Vietnam War veterans killed in the conflict. After successfully doing so, she went state by state and found around 8,000 photos with the help of a team; 5,000 of those photos were found on her own.

“Because I don’t give up, I always hoped we would find them all,” she said after finding her last photo. “I truly like a challenge. And this was definitely a challenge.”

“There were times that it was quite frustrating when you get so close, finding the family and then they don’t have a photo to share . . . There were a lot of days like that,” Hoehn said.

Jim Knotts, president and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, celebrated the work of Hoehn and other volunteers.

“When VVMF began this effort, the goal was to put a face with a name for each of the 58,281 service members whose names are inscribed on The Wall,” Knotts said in a news release. “To ensure that visitors to The Wall understand that behind each name is a face — a person with a story of a family and friends who were forever changed by their loss. Today, the Wall of Faces tells these stories through photos and remembrances left by both friends and family members. We couldn’t have done this without the tenacious work of a small army of volunteers across the country. Their ingenuity, commitment and dedication are tremendous.”

Knotts said this initial photo gathering phase is now complete, but their team and volunteers will continue to seek better-quality photos and add remembrances to show the full story behind each name.

He also requests that the public also look at the photos and add additional higher-quality images as well as leave remembrances. The Wall of Faces is available at www.vvmf.org/ wall-of-faces.

A short-term initial effort to find the photos began in fall 2001, but a larger, more concentrated effort launched in fall 2009. VVMF said “hundreds of volunteers” and family members submitted photos.

In addition to Hoehn, some of the other volunteers included Andrew Johnson, a newspaper publisher in Wisconsin who began looking for photos in 2014; David Hine, who got involved in 2009 after reading about the effort in the VVMF newsletter; Herb Reckinger, who started looking for photos of Minnesotans in 2014; Steve and Annie Delp, who began representing VVMF and the Wall of Faces project at Vietnam unit reunions in 2013; Norman Murray, who attended a Veterans Day ceremony at The Wall in 2014 and met Annie Delp; and John Thomstatter, who got involved in 2016 after hearing about the effort.

Hoehn said she is “absolutely thrilled” and called the completion “a dream come true.”

She said the same feelings came over her as when she found the last photo of the Maui veterans.

“I was so happy I was able to find all of their photos. However, at the same time, I loved getting to know the families and that is when I decided to have the photo display made (of the Maui fallen), and taking it all over Maui. . . . I didn’t want it to end there. I wanted to make sure these young men were never forgotten.”

Hoehn said the last photo her team found was that of Juan Ortiz-Rivera of Puerto Rico. The photo was among the last half a dozen that volunteers were looking for on July 4.

Hoehn acknowledged that the last photos did come in pretty quickly, within a month or so. She attributed some of that success to one of her team members, who wishes to remain anonymous, but has access to basic training books and was able to pull in the last few photos when the team received the exact state and location of the veterans’ basic training from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo.

Hoehn said that finding photos of veterans from Puerto Rico has been challenging since Hurricane Maria ravaged the country, destroying libraries and high schools.

Another area that was challenging was New York, as none of the libraries carried any old yearbooks. Hoehn said she also had difficulty getting a story into larger newspapers there, which she said would have helped spread the word.

Hoehn said she tried to get stories in various newspapers to assist in the efforts. The search for photos has also included making cold calls, visiting residences and libraries, reading through obituaries, searching the internet and visiting and writing to government organizations.

Now that the grunt work is done, Hoehn, a freelance floral designer, said she is working on a book about her experience along with stories of the Maui fallen.

She said many of the families have been interviewed but still has a few more families to speak with.

Reflecting back, Hoehn recalled how Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, told her that they probably wouldn’t find all of the photos. But she said he is now thrilled that all of the photos have been found.

“I have believed all along that we would find a photo for each one,” Hoehn said.

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

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