The Volunteers behind The Wall of Faces – Norm Murray

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: Norm Murray

My journey with the Wall of Faces
By Norm Murray

My wife and I attended the Veterans Day ceremony at The Wall in 2014, and that is where I met Ann Delp who worked with VVMF.  She sat and talked with me about the Wall of Faces project, an increased effort being made to locate photos and information about every individual and put a face and life story to every name on The Wall, to ensure that current and future generations can understand and honor the sacrifices of all who served in Vietnam.  Ann and the work she was doing was an inspiration to me – she made me feel the importance of remembering all those that we lost in Vietnam.

By 2015, more than 38,000 pictures had been located, but that meant there were still more than 20,000 names without photos or stories.  There are 450 names on The Wall that are officially from the eight counties of Western New York, and more than 150 of those had no picture.  That’s where my quest started:  tracking down families and yearbooks and newspaper clippings that would give us the pictures and stories about these Western New Yorkers.

In 2015, doing research to find photos of our fallen was not a stretch for me. I had been an interpreter-interrogator in Vietnam and that involved combing through thousands of pages of captured documents and interrogations, looking for any small traces of actionable intelligence information.   Doing this research was much easier without worrying about rockets being dropped on my head or bullets coming in across the wire.  As in Vietnam, this research was a team effort.  I tried going it alone at the beginning and was only able to find a few photos the first year – in December 2015 we were still missing 135. 

At the beginning of 2016 I was able to collaborate with student research classes at Buffalo State: I applied for and was accepted to be a project for an advanced PR & Advertising class.  They were able to develop social media platforms to encourage people to submit photos or contact me to assist them.  I was able to get several articles in The Buffalo News about our searches, and was able to get TV coverage on several local stations to aid our efforts.

My real hero in this work was another researcher, Patrick Kavanagh, who served as an Army medic in Vietnam.  For 20 years he had been quietly collecting obituaries of our WNY fallen, a project he started on his own so they could be remembered and not, as he puts it, die a second time.  Patrick’s work was picked up and digitized by Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, where he has been the de facto historian.  When I was able to connect Patrick’s files to the Wall of Faces archive, we went from 135 down to less than 50 names without a photo.  By Veterans Day 2016, we had only six names from Western New York that had no photos.  The Buffalo News ran a special front page article that day to tell their readers those names and ask for their help.

I was proud to work with Patrick for more than a year and a half, contacting families, culling yearbooks and newspaper archives, finding the photos and the life stories we needed.  On May 17th, 2017, we were able to announce that we had at least one picture in the Wall of Faces for each of the 450 Western New Yorkers who died in Vietnam.  Interestingly, Patrick obtained the final picture by buying a high school yearbook on eBay, because neither the school nor the public library had a copy of the yearbook in their archives.  On that day, I was performing a special show to raise money for the proposed Education Center at The Wall, and during the show Patrick announced the completion of our task for Western New York.