Veteran, students search for faces of Vietnam Wall
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., is engraved with the names of 1,161 Wisconsin veterans. A Vietnam War-era soldier from Baraboo and a group of students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are working to put a face to every one of those names.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is searching for photographs of every veteran on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Organizers plan to make those photos part of a virtual Wall of Faces in a new educational center being planned near the wall.
Terry Kramer is a U.S. Army veteran who served during the war but was not deployed to Vietnam. He has been searching for photos of Wisconsin veterans for almost a year — a search that has been anything but easy. He spent countless hours poring over obituaries and contacting relatives of veterans killed in Vietnam requesting photographs. He also contacted high schools looking for yearbook photos. There were many phone calls that eventually would result in a photo being found.
“Then they’d get in touch with someone else. Eventually a picture gets back to me,” Kramer said. “I was able to post 41 pictures.”
While Kramer was searching for photographs from his home in Baraboo, 120 miles away in a journalism class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, students were doing the same. They began their search in February.
“When UW Milwaukee became involved in this project, there were 64 missing photos,” class instructor Jessica McBride said.
Because these were the last of the 1,161 veteran photos being searched for, McBride knew the challenge would be great.
“When I saw that list, I said these are supposedly the unfindable ones, or they would have been found already,” McBride said. “But I said everybody is findable.”
Her students were assigned specific veterans and told to find a photograph of each. In addition to finding the photo, they also needed to learn something about the veteran and tell his or her story. In doing so, many of the students came to the realization these veterans from another time were not dissimilar from them.
“As soon as you get their photo and you look into their eyes, it was like, wow. This is a real person, they had real experiences, they had a family, people, loved ones. They had dreams, they had experiences, they had potential, and it was all lost,” student Amanda Porter, said.
Eventually, as photos of the veterans were located, the list of 64 was whittled down to one.
“And that left us with Willie Bedford, of Milwaukee,” McBride said.
The students and Terry Kramer have been searching for a photo of the 19-year-old soldier for months.
“He’s from Milwaukee and his family moved around a lot, and through the years they’ve lost all of the photos they have of him,” said Rachel Maidl, the student assigned to find Bedford’s photo.
While Bedford has proven the most difficult photo to find, the students believe they may have some good leads that may produce a photo. They need to confirm that a photo they have acquired is actually Bedford.
When they do confirm the last photograph, the photos will put a face to the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“It is important that we’re going to be able to honor these people, because they didn’t get the best reception. The ones that made it out and the ones that gave all,” student Tyler Nelson said.