Beyond the Names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Students Find Their Photos

Memorial Day 2007 - Leroy Lawson -6

A group of students walk past West side of The Wall that holds the names of the more than 58,000 who died in the Vietnam War.

The structure that holds the names of the more than 58,000 fallen veterans is powerful to all who visit it. More than 30 years after The Wall’s dedication, VVMF has made significant ground on its biggest effort – collecting photos of the names on The Wall. In honor of the Vietnam veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, putting a face with every name brings a new dynamic and meaning to the memorial. It has become an important step to preserve each legacy to the fallen. To date, more than 45,000 photos have been found.

One Iowa class is ensuring their state’s 854 veterans on The Wall are never forgotten.

Under the direction of  Social Studies teacher Tom Dickey, 7th grade Civics and Government students at Lone Tree Community School are searching for photos of their local heroes.

Every photo collected is seen on VVMF’s Wall of Faces, and will be later seen at the  future Education Center at The Wall, VVMF’s newest initiative.

The future Education Center will be adjacent to The Wall in Washington, D.C. It will show the pictures and tell the stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam, provide a rich educational experience on the Vietnam War, show some of the more than 400,000 items left at The Wall, and celebrate the values exhibited by America’s service members in all wars.

One of the reason’s Tom’s class is searching for photos is to make certain that every photo displayed at the Education Center is top-notch. Of the 853 photos collected for Iowa, 170 are “poor quality.”

And since a major part of the Center will put a story with every name on The Wall, Tom is having his class research their biographical information.


Daniel Upton of Mason City, Iowa who fell in 1970. Upton is one of the 173 veterans whose photos are “poor quality” on VVMF’s Wall of Faces.

“I have assigned each of my 42 students two veterans to research and find information on,” Tom explained. Students are contacting  local libraries, town halls, veteran offices, newspapers, and families left behind.

Every family member contacted by the class has told them how important their undertaking is to the legacy of their loved one they lost so tragically in the war.

Through the process, students are learning about, “perseverance, civic purpose and action…and most of all, pride in our country.” With resources from VVMF’s Hometown Heroes curriculum, there’s no “better way to learn about citizenship and sacrifice.”

Tom has also coordinated a host of community events to honor veterans. They include: school assemblies, flag raising ceremonies, and a veterans’ breakfast. He has also worked to send donations and greeting cards to a local veteran’s hospital.

“Even though I’m not a veteran, my father was a veteran of WWII, and I have always seen the importance of honoring our veterans and keeping their accomplishments alive in the minds of our young people,” he said.

The essence of what it means to lay oneself down in defense of another resonates with today’s youngest citizens. “I want my students to know that they are living in a very special place with special people,” he continued.

M-19 Girl doing rubbing Lawson

A student makes a name rubbing at The Wall. Part of VVMF’s mission is to educate future generations about the impact of the Vietnam War.

While the 7th grade students have not made a trip to The Wall in Washington, D.C. just yet, their work has not gone unnoticed. They’ve been invited to a ceremony in Des Moines, as special guests, in honor of their own Wall on their state’s capitol grounds.

“The students are super fired up about this,” Tom exclaimed. “This would have never happened without this project.”

Read more about VVMF’s role in education  here.

To donate to the future Education Center at The Wall, click here.