The Volunteers behind The Wall of Faces – Herb Reckinger
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: Herb Reckinger
My journey with the Wall of Faces
By Herb Reckinger
It was in March of 2014, when I went to the St Paul Park City Hall. As I left, an administrator threw an envelope across the counter, asked me to take it, as they didn’t know what to do with it. At home I discovered a request from a St Cloud Vietnam veteran, to help locate photos for three Minnesotans who had no pictures for the Wall of Faces. Fifty years ago was a long time ago, but I thought I would give it a try.
There were 300 Minnesotans without photos and I knew most of the work for those photos would come from the newspaper microfilms at the Minnesota Historical Society. After adding the 49 additional names on the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the 1074 Minnesotans, I realized there were 1123 men who lost their lives from our state. I had written a family history in the 1980s and knew the MHS had a wealth of newspapers from all over the state. Before 2014, I never gave much thought to the fallen service members who died in Vietnam. Before 2014, most of these men and women had been gone for around half a century. However, I would learn they still had families who wanted them remembered, they still had classmates and the men that served with them, they still had their local historical societies and loyal librarians of their cities and schools. There were great resources in our state.
Raymond Huot’s picture was simple. Two ladies from the St Paul Park-Cottage Grove High School reunion committees got that first picture for a young man who died when his classmates were in the second month of their senior year. Gary Peterson was a bit more difficult. He was born and buried in Mora, Minnesota. A Mora city librarian sent Gary’s senior class photo. It took a few weeks, but I was able to locate two of Mark Steeley’s sisters in Conifer, Colorado. They sent his great Air Force photo.
Then I sought more photos from the St Paul suburbs where I live. From there, I would go clockwise around our state and keeping the search for the St Paul and Minneapolis men until last, hoping someone else would go to work on them. Remember, this is not like a puzzle that gets easier as one gets close to being done. By 2014, a number of folks had also been looking for photos of these men.
A year later, in June of 2015, Minnesota became the sixth state to find at least one picture for each of their fallen. I was not the first to contribute or the last. It takes a concerted effort by folks who send in a single photo, to those who send in a great number of photos. Such was how this was done in Minnesota and the states of all over our country.
I sat around for about a month. A good friend of mine from Cottage Grove and a journalism professor from the University of Milwaukee encouraged me to search out pictures for the Wall of Faces from other states. At first I thought, how can I do this for other states? I didn’t know any of those people. Then I realized that I never knew even a single Minnesotan. I spent another two years searching for the unpictured. I sent in a great number of photos during this time. I was without the Minnesota Historical Society or being in a proximity to where they lived. After searching each of those remaining without pictures at least two times, I stopped searching for photos of the unpictured.
I have worked with VVMF during this entire time. First working with George DeCastro and Steve Delp and now with Tim Tetz and Cathy Miller. I have met them and most of the rest of the staff of the VVMF on more than several occasions. I’m 70 years old and they are the best folks I have ever worked with. Tim asked my wife and I to help verify names before the current 3/4 scale Wall That Heals was made. It was a great project to make corrections based on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to the smaller scale model, to ensure the new TWTH would be a true replica of The Wall in Washington DC. It was about this time that Tim told me that picture gatherers like me and others were in a haste to get their states done, and in that process, we overlooked many great and better pictures.
I continued to search for pictures for the Wall of Faces for those with poor quality photos, pictures of men with their hats, caps or helmets on (not truly seeing what they looked like). I went through all of Minnesota and Iowa a second time. After doing this for awhile, I decided to look at each of the men and women on the Wall of Faces. I search by calendar month and date. We lost an average of 160 for each of those 365 days. I thought it might take a year, but it took 15 months to do the first 6 months, so I should be done next March.
As of now, I want to thank all of the people who have helped with this call for photos. Most of you know who you are, but thousands of you don’t. Anyone who wrote a published article about one of these men or women and gave the biographical information needed for one of us to proceed, it all helps. Your Wall of Faces Remembrances also help. If all you do is mention the high school or college they went to- one of us will find it. Most of our nation’s colleges and universities have their yearbooks online. We are so grateful to any of you who have contributed your yearbooks to the yearbook websites. They are so valuable to help others recall what they looked like, and in some cases, a matter of months before they gave their lives in Vietnam.
If you believe that a photo or group of photos can tell a story better than a written story, then look up Richard Mishuk. Sometimes a story with the photos are the best. Search Keith Christophersen and see the pictures and story that his sister sent in. If you think the family members don’t appreciate the remembrances written on the Wall of Faces, then look up Henry Schanck. You will learn that Henry Schanck had a real name- Eddie Limoges- and that his sister Robynne is so grateful for those writings. Kerry Gossman has a sister who just wishes someone who served with him would write on the Wall of Faces about him. Look up Hudson, Wisconsin’s lone casualty – Richard Fina-sometimes the work of the VVMF can lead to more than pictures and stories. Richard Fina has a plaque in his name at the grade school which was once his high school.
At The Wall That Heals in Stillwater, a local veteran asked me to find his friend’s name on The Wall. The friend was from another state. I asked if he wanted to see his picture. The man asked how we would do that. I told him the photo was on his phone. After looking up his friend on the Wall of Faces he had one sentence for me- “I forgot what he looked like.” Of the countless family members who have helped me out, I have talked with one Mom and one Dad. Both of them are gone. There are several moms who have been a great help and inspiration. I have not met them. All three are still alive.
This is all in the Wall of Faces. I am so grateful to anyone who has contributed in any way. With the photo effort for initial pictures completed, I can’t tell you how proud I am of the 58,281 service members on The Wall and the other nearly 3 million who served during the Vietnam era. As of this week, every single service member on The Wall has at least one photo. That is unbelievable. After next March I don’t know what I will do for the VVMF, but I will think of something.