How One Man Who Lost A Son in Afghanistan Helped Honor the Vietnam Fallen
In 2014, Andrew Johnson, a Gold Star father and publisher of the Dodge County Pionier contacted VVMF, the organization who founded The Wall in Washington, D.C. He wanted to find photos for the Wisconsin service members who died during the Vietnam War.
A single email opened with:
To whom it may concern:
First of all, I want to tell you that my son Lt. David Johnson was KIA in Afghanistan on 1-25-12.
We want to do something very special for our KIA’s on Memorial Day. Last year, we ran a photo of every fallen soldier since Sept. 11, 2001 from Wisconsin in our paper prior to Memorial Day. This year we want to do something for the Vietnam KIA’s.
Johnson had heard about VVMF’s campaign to put a face to the more than 58,000 veterans with names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, D.C. Beginning with one email and spanning over the next few years, he wanted to ensure these Vietnam heroes were never forgotten.
When Johnson’s email came in on January 8, 2014, he offered a big idea. The year before, his newspaper had run the photos of every fallen soldier from the current war on terrorism. This time, he wanted to focus on honoring and recognizing those who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Wisconsin Public Radio and Television had already joined VVMF’s effort to find photos and Johnson quickly realized that local newspapers would be significant in the search.
“I think I could also get many of our member newspapers to also assist you in this effort,” he added. ” In Wisconsin, we have 191 weekly newspapers and 30 daily newspapers.”
Collected photos would one day be displayed in the Education Center at The Wall – a place on the National Mall that aims put faces to the more than 58,000 fallen Vietnam veterans, educate about the war and its legacy, and provide a temporary memorial for those lost in current conflicts. Johnson’s son, 1LT David Johnson, was killed in Afghanistan on January 25, 2012.
The mission for Johnson was strong in his heart.
When Johnson began working with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association in the spring of 2014, more than 450 photos were still missing. Newspapers divided up lists of missing photos by geographic location and many were successful in reaching families and the community.
In February of 2015, it seemed Johnson was getting close. 64 photos were still missing from his state, a majority of them from Milwaukee. Johnson soon found that the last piece to finding these photos was University of Wisconsin journalism lecturer, Jessica McBride.
For months, McBride and her journalism students took an investigative approach and dug deep into the stories of families and friends. They opened hearts and mended emotional wounds. McBride was inspired by Johnson’s dedication to honoring those who lost their lives.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, Pvt. Willie Bedford of Milwaukee became the final photo collected. The Wisconsin veteran had drowned in May of 1970, at the age of 19.
Bedford’s photo was submitted by student journalist Rachel Maidl.
Photos of Bedford were unfortunately lost over time, and his siblings had not seen a photo of their brother in decades. It wasn’t until Maidl brought a photo from a North Division High School yearbook, that the family received long-awaited closure.
In a shocking revelation, Bedford’s photo was almost overlooked because of a typo in his high school yearbook.
From one Gold Star family to another, Johnson helped bring some healing to families who now know their veterans will never be forgotten.
Johnson played an instrumental role in spearheading efforts about VVMF’s Wall of Faces. And over Memorial Day Weekend of this year, the photos of the 1,161 Wisconsin heroes were published in the Dodge County Pioneer, as well as other local newspapers.
At the 2016 National Newspaper Association Conference, VVMF awarded Johnson with a Certificate of Appreciation.
To help submit a photo to VVMF, please visit the virtual Wall of Faces page here.
*Source: The Dodge County Pioneer, Andrew Johnson