To See His Face Again

Stephanie Taylor was 13 years old when her big brother, William Soderstrom, lost his life in the Vietnam War. Forty seven years later, Stephanie had little to remember William by; her family photo albums lost, she was left with just one picture of William. Taken on Thanksgiving Day, 1965 before he left for Vietnam, the black and white photo depicts William holding his young daughter in front of his face so that his nose, mouth and one of his eyes are obscured.

William Soderstrom

William Soderstrom

But Stephanie had something of a guardian angel in her high school classmate Gaylyn Shay. Gaylyn had heard that The Wall That Heals was coming to their hometown of Albany, Ore. So she called Stephanie and told her she had to go and what’s more, she ought to participate in the Faces Never Forgotten campaign, a project that aims to collect a photo for each of the 58,286 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When Stephanie explained that she didn’t really have anything to submit, Gaylyn got down to work.

Previously Gaylyn had hired a young homeless man, Mike George, to help with her photography business. She told him that if he learned how to restore old photographs, he would always have a job with her. Gaylyn and Mike worked together on the photo, trying to fill in the missing parts. They used pictures of William’s father and grandfather to try and recreate his face.

“She kept saying, ‘Well the nose is almost right,’” Gaylyn said. “It was frustrating. But so important.”

Stephanie realized the local newspaper, the Democrat Herald, might have a photo of William in their archives and so she asked Gaylyn to investigate. After some digging, Gaylyn found it. But since the photo was from a newspaper, it was essentially a bunch of very small black dots. Scanners and Photoshop cannot pick up those types of images so Gaylyn and Mike had to get “artistic.”

Stephanie sees the photo of her brother for the first time.

Stephanie sees the photo of her brother for the first time.

After about 80 hours of work, the two had a beautiful photo of William. Stephanie didn’t know they had found the newspaper photo to work off of; when she came to The Wall That Heals event on August 8, she was shocked to be given the restored photo of her brother.  The photo was then submitted to VVMF’s Virtual Wall of Faces, where it will live forever online and eventually in the Education Center at The Wall.

Gaylyn says she now plans to find and restore the photos of two of her other high school classmates who also lost their brothers in the Vietnam War.

“This needs to be done to honor them,” Gaylyn said. “These were people, not just casualties or numbers. You can see that in their faces.”