Never forgotten: Volunteers match faces to names of Vietnam War dead
Dearborn Heights — On what would have been her brother Michael’s 70th birthday, Lorraine Johnson received a phone call about him.
A woman volunteering for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund wanted to know: Are you related to Michael Bard? Do you have a photograph of him?
The call on Feb. 19 from Janna Hoehn brought memories flooding back for Johnson about June 11, 1968, the day she learned her brother, a lance corporal in the Marines, had been killed when he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam.
“Believe it or not, I still think about my brother every single day,” said Johnson, 71. “He’s in my mind. I can relive the day as if it happened yesterday.”
The Dearborn Heights woman submitted a wrinkled, wallet-sized photo of her brother to Hoehn, who is part of an effort to create an online database matching a face to each of the 58,315 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
For a decade, Hoehn, who lives in Hawaii, has collected photographs of service members who died in the war, along with other volunteers who want to keep the fallen troops' memories alive. She says the task is painstaking yet rewarding.
“I’d say 99.9 percent of the families are so grateful that someone is wanting to remember their loved ones,” Hoehn said. “You know, I think their greatest fear is that their loved one is going to be forgotten."
To Johnson, having someone ask about her brother was a welcome surprise. "It was nice to get the call and to know someone was still thinking of my brother," she said.
How to help
So far, the effort has gathered more than 53,000 photographs, with a complete collection for 39 states and American Samoa, Hoehn said.
The collection is incomplete for Michigan. Of the 2,666 state residents who died in the Vietnam War, Hoehn said she and others are searching for 118 photos, including 91 from Wayne County.
The Wall of Faces is at vvmf.org, along with information about how to help, which photographs are still sought and how to submit them.
“Some of the families are very difficult to find,” Hoehn said. “Sometimes, we have to rely on yearbook photos or just trying to find which high school he went to. So it’s a long process.”
Hoehn said she has personally collected close to 7,000 photographs. She works with a team of 10 researchers, mostly Vietnam veterans. Her involvement grew from a personal experience at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
She said she never knew anyone who died in the war. But she etched one name at the wall onto a sheet of paper, repeating a tradition of so many visitors.
Curious, Hoehn said she researched the soldier, Gregory John Crossman. She discovered how difficult it can be.
Working on and off for six months, she was never able to locate any of Crossman's family members. But six weeks into the hunt, she found a photograph of him from college.
Along the way, she also found out about efforts by the memorial fund to gather the images for the Vietnam Veterans Virtual Memorial Wall. She sent in the photograph of Crossman.
The longer the search goes on, the more challenging it becomes. “The photos that are easy to get, we’ve got,” Hoehn said. “The ones we don’t have are the hard ones.”
She is working without a volunteer in Michigan. A woman who helped a couple of years ago stopped because of an illness in her family.
“It is always nice to get another person to help,” Hoehn said, “especially a person in the state who is willing to run around and go to libraries for us.”
She offers an email for submissions or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hoehn said the sharp division over the war as it was being fought meant many of the survivors felt they couldn't properly honor their fallen loved ones.
“Because of all the controversy back in the '60s, the way the young men were treated when they got home, it’s a tough one," she said. “Some of the family members are very emotional about it.
“I had one family member tell me that they couldn’t even hold a public memorial service for their loved one because there was so much anger and hate about the Vietnam War. And they kind of had to do it hush-hush. It breaks my heart.”
'Broke my heart'
All of these years later, Johnson can vividly recollect the day she learned her only sibling had died.
“I worked at Oakwood Hospital at the time as a nurse’s aide,” Johnson said. “They paged me over the loudspeaker. And it was the saddest thing I ever experienced.”
A nurse asked if she needed a ride, she said. But she lived with her family, close by.
“To come home and see my father crying,” Johnson said. “That just literally broke my heart.”
Johnson said she and her brother were close growing up. They attended Cody High School in Detroit in the 1960s.
“It was only him and I,” she said. “I can’t say he used to like to get in trouble, but he got in trouble a few times.
“My brother had black hair and he wore it like the D.A. (a coiffure that resembled a duck’s tail) in the back and real full in the front with the long sideburns. The thing I always told him was, 'Mike, just be careful in the things that you do.' He and I had a really good rapport.”
She describes her brother as a typical teenager of his time and place. He and a group of friends always seemed to have a jalopy they somehow managed to maintain well enough to keep it on Motor City streets.
Bard and three of his friends enlisted in the Marines on the buddy plan. Johnson said her parents would regret signing the forms required to give him permission to sign up.
“The thing I really remember most about him was being in the bathroom, and he had to make sure that every strand of hair was in place,” she said, laughing.
“He was only 18 at the time. He was the only son.”
And he is not forgotten.
Searching for Michigan vets
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is seeking photographs of the following Michigan service members who died during the war:
Harold F. Hawkins, Coldwater, 1947–1969
James E. Russ, Grayling, 1947–1970
Robert J. Moras, Escanaba, 1946–1967
Jerald W. Kemp, Charlotte, 1947–1967
James E. Dozier, Flint, 1947–1966
Henry C. Flippen, Flint, 1931-1968
Lowell D. Holden, Davison, 1941-1967
James A. Person, Flint, 1947-1969
Julian B. Willoughby, Flint, 1933-1966
Edward Kasnow, Elwell, 1946–1968
Donald Y. Scarberry, Vicksburg, 1948–1969
Robert L. Dalton, Grand Rapids, 1951-1971
Larry J. Fritzgerald, Grand Rapids, 1946-1968
Willis G. Jones, Grand Rapids, 1948-1968
George L. Carr, Adrian, 1949-1968
Ray L. Sharp, Ridgeway, 1938-1969
Wallace R. Thorson Jr., Newberry 1949-1968
Richard D. Mattson, Fraser, 1946-1966
Randall B. Prinz, Roseville, 1947-1966
Stephen D. Langler, Muskegon, 1949-1968
Robert D. Cain, Union Lake, 1945-1967
Charles R. Henley, Union Lake, 1947-1968
Dennis A. Stephens, Pontiac, 1949-1970
Voyd E. Tidwell, Pontiac, 1943-1968
William M. Wilkerson, Royal Oak, 1948-1968
Randy G. Totten, Reed City, 1945-1966
St. Joseph County
Jerry M. Cunningham, Constantine, 1949-1970
Grady M. Jordan, Ypsilanti, 1915-1967
Louis G. Arnold, Detroit, 1948-1967
Dave E. Ashford, Detroit, 1938-1967
John D. Beaver, Detroit, 1948-1968
Ronald R. Blacksmith, Detroit, 1951-1971
John W. Brewer Jr., Detroit, 1951-1971
Jimmie D. Brown, Detroit, 1948-1969
Joseph M. Brown, Detroit, 1949-1968
Ronald W. Bryant, Detroit, 1947-1968
Joseph Burkes, Detroit, 1947-1968
Douglas M. Burnett, Detroit, 1945-1966
Frankie N. Carter, Detroit, 1948-1968
Thomas E. Cast, Detroit, 1947-1967
Henry J. Chester Jr., Detroit, 1948-1968
Anthony L. Clark, Detroit, 1949-1970
Bonnie L. Coleman, Detroit, 1947-1968
Sylvester Collins, Detroit, 1950-1970
David L. Conley, Detroit, 1950-1970
Moses J. Cousin, Detroit, 1943-1968
Dennis A. Cunningham, Detroit, 1949-1969
Jeff Currethers, Detroit, 1946-1967
Glenn V. Curry, Detroit, 1944-1966
Alan G. Demorow, Allen Park, 1949-1970
Ronald S. Dobbs, Detroit, 1948-1968
Leon G. Edwards, Detroit, 1949-1968
Robert W. Edwards, Livonia, 1947-1967
James H. Fry, Detroit, 1949-1969
Ronald D. Galpin, Detroit, 1947-1968
James R. Garten, Detroit, 1930-1971
Louis A. George, Detroit, 1949-1969
Earl W. Goodall, Detroit, 1945-1966
Larry V. Green, Detroit, 1949-1968
Houston Gulley, Detroit, 1948-1969
Albert G. Hallowell, Highland Park, 1927-1966
Willie C. Hardy, Detroit, 1949-1968
Charles Harmon, Detroit, 1945-1966
Gregory A. Harper, Detroit, 1946-1968
Otis L. Hartry, Detroit, 1948-1968
Dale L. Hayes, Detroit, 1952-1972
James A. Hering, Detroit, 1947-1968
Roger D. Herrando, Detroit, 1947-1967
Edward L. Hodge, Detroit, 1937-1966
David Howze Jr., Detroit, 1942-1969
Meredith G. Hubbard, Detroit, 1936-1966
Fernando J. Hughes, Detroit, 1946-1968
Douglas Jackson, Detroit, 1941-1966
Larry R. Jenkins, Detroit, 1949-1969
Clarence E. Johnson, Allen Park, 1947-1966
Byron N. Jones, Detroit, 1947-1968
Horatio L. Jones, Detroit, 1948-1967
Jessie P. Kent, Detroit, 1948-1969
Charles W. Kinney, Ecorse, 1948-1968
James M. La Rouche, Garden City, 1945-1968
Gary E. Lee, Detroit, 1946-1968
Frank Leptrone, Wayne, 1950-1969
Randell B. Little, River Rouge, 1946-1968
Julius Maddox, Detroit, 1947-1968
Rickey C. McCoy, Detroit, 1950-1969
Steven B. Mills, Detroit, 1950-1970
Leroy G. Mitchell, Detroit, 1946-1967
Harold Moore, Detroit, 1949-1968
Richard L. Moorehead, Detroit, 1949-1969
Michael L. Myers, Detroit, 1946-1967
Dewight E. Norton, Detroit, 1951-1971
Danny Overton Jr., Detroit, 1947-1968
William G. Parker, Detroit, 1949-1968
Ivory P. Parrish, Detroit, 1939-1967
Paul J. Petersen, Taylor, 1945-1967
Robertis Pinkney, Detroit, 1946-1970
George H. Potts, Detroit, 1949-1971
Robert Quinn, Detroit, 1945-1968
Matherew D. Renfroe, Detroit, 1947-1966
Stanley R. Rhodes, Detroit, 1952-1971
Martin L. Rimson, Detroit, 1947-1968
Ronald A. Roth, Detroit, 1945-1966
Terry E. Schwartz, Allen Park, 1951-1971
Darrel A. Shellie, Detroit, 1967-1968
Leon Simms, Detroit, 1945-1967
Johnnie Smith Jr., Detroit, 1947-1966
Willie J. Smith Jr., Detroit, 1946-1965
Frank D. Smitherman, Detroit, 1945-1969
William A. Swoveland, Detroit, 1944-1968
Charles L. Tank, Ecorse, 1943-1969
Johnie B. Thomas, Detroit, 1942-1968
Leonard L. Thompson, Detroit, 1945-1968
Mark D. Tyler, Detroit, 1950-1968
Ivan L. Vincent Jr., Detroit, 1946-1968
Bruce J. Wilder, Dearborn Heights, 1946-1968
Ted Williams, Detroit, 1947-1967
Donnie W. Young, Detroit, 1944-1967