The Volunteers behind The Wall of Faces – David Hine

The Wall of Faces,

VVMF recently announced that at least one photo had been found for each of the 58,281 service members listed on The Wall. This effort was completed for dozens of dedicated volunteers across the country. Over the next seven days, we’re highlighting the stories of some of these volunteers in their own words about what it meant for them to take part in this effort. Today we highlight: David Hine

My journey with the Wall of Faces
By David Hine

Emailed newsletters have become a common and fast way of informing people about the activities of almost all organizations today. VVMF is no exception, and although their September 10, 2009, newsletter had seven items, one in particular stood out from the others.

It mentioned a partnership between VVMF and FedEx named the National Call For Photos.  They wanted to help in locating at least one photo of the 58,000+ men and women whose names are on The Wall.  It would put a face with a name.  My first thought was, what a great idea, and since our hometown had hosted The Wall That Heals in 2005, we had photos of our 11 heroes that we could submit right away.  This project should be completed fairly quickly.

I made a point of checking the progress of the project and found that the number of photos being found wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, especially in my home state of Indiana. From that point on, the search for photos became my priority and passion.  Not just in Indiana, but throughout the nation.  By having a photo for each name on The Wall, we ensure that these heroes will not be forgotten.

My journey for finding the photos always began in the hometowns, or the home-of-record of these heroes.  Occasionally, we found that the home-of-record was not where the person was born, but that was just a temporary setback.  There is no better place to find these photos, than the places these men and women grew up and lived. 

The hometown newspapers would almost always have the obituary of those we lost, and would list surviving family members, and normally any high school or college they graduated from or attended.  Naturally, finding the parents or siblings was always the best solution.  When the family couldn’t be located, I would contact the specific schools or Alumni Associations of the schools mentioned, or City/County libraries for information.  Yearbook photos became a valuable resource in many instances.

In addition to the VVMF website, there are other online resources that provide anyone the opportunity to post a remembrance about those we lost in Vietnam.  Many friends and family members would include their email address or current address at the end of the remembrance.  From there I could email them directly or research Facebook and the online White Pages and make contact with them.

Newspapers coverage probably gave us the widest dissemination to the public. It was just finding the right person that cared about the project.  I always researched the specific newspaper and contacted the people that wrote articles about the military for their publication.  The few exceptions were the newspapers in major metropolitan areas.  Very few would ever answer my request. 

I never really changed the way I researched anyone that needed a photo, even if I had researched them several times.  I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss some information in a previous search.

As I mentioned, the normal process was finding the family and having them submit the photo, or submitting it for them, but the most memorable story during my journey took a different path.

SP4 George L. Tataryn was from Chicago, Illinois and fell in December 1968, leaving behind a son, Tony.  I located George’s daughter-in-law, Leslie, after she posted a remembrance for him on his VVMF webpage and asked if they could provide a photo to VVMF.  Surprisingly, I found that Tony never even seen a photo of his dad.  He did not know about his biological father until more than two decades after his father’s death.

With a little digging and the help of the Chicago Public Library, I was able to obtain George’s high school senior photo and I sent it to them.  Once the family received it, they were ecstatic.  Leslie exclaimed “my husband looks exactly like George… Oh my gosh!”  We were also able to find a military photo of George.  Providing Tony, Leslie and their daughters the first photos they had ever seen of George is something I never expected and will never forget.

Results like this make every search worth the effort.  When you locate a loved one that did not know about the search for photos, or even know about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, they could not be more appreciative.  They believed that nobody cared, and that their personal hero had been forgotten.

The successes like finding George’s photo for his son and family greatly outweigh the disappointments, but as a military retiree, it was extremely frustrating that my requests for support from our three main veterans organizations went unanswered, not just once but on multiple occasions.

As the project ends, a couple of thoughts come to mind.   I was always afraid that we could not find a photo for one or two of these heroes, but collectively, we have put a face with every name on The Wall.  A 13 year journey that will help make sure that none of these heroes are forgotten!

Finally, I want to thank every family of these heroes that provided photos of their loved ones for the Wall of Faces project.  I also need to thank the friends, schools, organizations, newspapers and television stations that made this project a success. 

I am so proud and honored to be a part of this project.