Colorado Vietnam veteran photos all found
Maui florist Janna Hoehn and her team of volunteers recently found the last missing picture of all of our 626 men killed in the Vietnam War and the state of Colorado now has a complete set of pictures for the Wall of Faces exhibit that will soon be a part of the Vietnam Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.
In April 2015 Janna typed a list of 281 missing pictures from the 626 lost in Colorado, a whopping 45 percent of our men lost in that war, and started to contact newspapers, television stations and radio shows all over Colorado.
Simultaneously she was working to find missing pictures in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and her home state of Hawaii. She had set out, from the west, to attempt to complete state sets that might ultimately locate all 58,315 pictures of those killed in action in the Vietnam War.
Her quest being to leave future America generations with a moving addition to the already solemn and much-visited Vietnam Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C. It is there that an addition is about to be made in the form of an underground gallery that will soon open called the Education Center that will display pictures of those lost in the war.
About eight years ago, when Janna visited the memorial she was appalled to discover the number of missing pictures on hand at the Vietnam Memorial and considered it a slight to those who had given every last measure of themselves in an ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. Janna set out to do her part by finding 42 missing pictures of veterans from her island of Maui and was then asked to help with the state of Hawaii. A difficult task, wherein she had to travel to the far-reaching islands of her home state that only recently was completed after a four and a half year quest.
It occurred to Janna that many other states likewise needed just such an effort. However, with 32,000 missing pictures from the national collection, just where would one begin in such a huge country as America? Suddenly the answer seemed simple, just start moving from west to east and see what happens.
And “what happened” was a hunt that has now resulted in complete sets of pictures for the states of South Dakota, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Alaska, and now Colorado. The Western states of Wyoming and New Mexico had already completed their sets, while a group of ladies in Arizona informed Janna that they would work to find their own missing pictures.
To find 281 pictures an emphasis was required in no less than 36 different counties throughout Colorado.
If newspapers tended to bring in the largest share, it was the quiet competence of reference librarians and school officials that marked a major turning point in Janna’s ultimate haul. When all else failed mayors, sheriffs and police chiefs were asked to join in and always met the challenge.
Along the way was one touching account after another and tears feel at times. Uncovered were pictures of men declared missing in action who, years later have been placed into a “assumed dead” category.
Telephone calls to those alive who remembered their brothers solicited tears of joy from a younger brother in the San Luis Valley — as he was asked to help, he informed that although he was 60 miles from any town, he would get on a motorcycle this very moment to get the picture to Janna.
Perhaps no conversation in all of Colorado could match that of the sister of Gerald and Rodrick Whalen. As the call concluded it seemed appropriate to tell her of the sorrow one feels for her that she had lost two brothers and a cousin in that war. With characteristic Western rugged female grit, that comment was “stopped right in its tracks.” Amazingly was this “oh, no, don’t be sorry for my family, my family is proud of their men, there’s nothing to feel sorry about for us.”
At other times terrific individual heroism was uncovered in the person Gilbert Hamilton of Denver who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second-highest award for heroism, in the last moments of his life. At least a half dozen cases of heroism worthy of the coveted Silver Star Medal also coming to light in the hunt for Colorado’s last missing pictures.
It was inspiring, even if tearful, to go into so many amazing corners of the beautiful state of Colorado to find all of those missing pictures.
And now in the face of 11,000 pictures still missing nationwide, even though she has personally posted about 4,000 herself, it is time for Janna to look for the last two missing pictures from the states of Washington and Nebraska as she sets her sights upon crossing the Mississippi River, state-by-state until the gallery in the Vietnam Memorial is representative of all 58,315 engraved on The Wall just above
All of that is for another day, for now this is a time for all of Colorado to be proud that Janna Hoehn and her volunteers cared about ours even as we thank her and hers that it’s done.
Dana Kwist of Colorado Springs helped Hoehn with her project.
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