Reading the names of the fallen and the promise to never forget
U.S. Navy pilot Joseph P. Dunn was declared missing in action when his unarmed A-1 Skyraider was shot down over the South China Sea on February 14, 1968. He was a loving husband and father to a son of the same name.
Before his final mission, Joseph ordered flowers to be delivered to his wife, Maureen. The flowers arrived the day she learned his plane had gone down. It was Valentine’s Day, as reported by the Washington Post.
“I felt like my heart was torn out of my body,” Mrs. Dunn once told the Boston Globe, “and yet I had to keep breathing.”
A life was cut short and a family was forever changed.
Before there was a wall where Dunn’s name was etched in granite, Maureen dedicated herself to raising awareness around the POW/MIA issue. She became a staunch advocate on behalf of families of prisoners of war and those missing in action. She was also one of the original members of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
In the early 1980s, Joseph Dunn was presumed killed in action. His name and the names of the more than 58,000 service members who died or remain missing in Vietnam are etched on The Wall in Washington, D.C. Every anniversary year, their names are read aloud during the Reading of the Names – a somber and moving event.
On Nov. 8, 1992 Maureen took part in the Reading of the Names, the second in The Wall’s history. The first took place in 1982, when the The Wall was dedicated.
At around 11:30 p.m. that evening, Maureen was waiting in line to say her husband’s name when President George H.W. Bush walked up and asked if he could read with her. There was no press present. She said yes. In a picture that emerged, you see President Bush standing next to Maureen and First Lady Barbara Bush in a very sacred tribute.
Behind every name on The Wall is a person and a family changed forever. By saying their names, we are saying we will never forget them.
Although Dunn’s remains were never recovered, Maureen remained a relentless advocate for families of those POW and MIA until her death in 2013. She helped spark a national movement that provides the fullest possible accounting of the service members who are unaccounted for. She is also one of many families who felt loss and uncertainty.
When The Wall was dedicated in 1982, a promise was made to never forget those who served and sacrificed. Reading the names of our fallen service members is just one way a nation can continue to honor that promise.
The name of Joseph P. Dunn will be read aloud next month, part of the 35th Anniversary Commemoration of The Wall. There are now 58,318 names etched in the black granite. When we say their names, we will also remember the sacrifices of the families who were left behind.
The Reading of the Names has taken place in Washington, D.C. just five other times in The Wall’s history. In November 1982, the names were read aloud at Washington National Cathedral as part of a week-long National Salute to Vietnam Veterans. The names were read at The Wall during the 10th Anniversary in November 1992, during the 20th Anniversary in 2002, 25th Anniversary in 2007 and during the 30th Anniversary in 2012.
*Joseph P. Dunn was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he was maintained missing.