The wider public perception of Vietnam War veterans has taken a 180-degree turn since the 1960s and ’70s when protesters marched against the war and vilified the troops who served in Southeast Asia.
The stories of returning soldiers being heckled in airports are, sadly, well-documented.
That kind of treatment of troops seems unimaginable in 2014. Especially since the first Persian Gulf War – Operation Desert Shield – returning service members have been warmly welcomed home. There is essentially a public embrace for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and they have been greeted with ceremonies at airports and parades in their hometowns.
In the wake of the series of wars and battles in the Middle East specifically, the amount of respect accorded to Vietnam War veterans has climbed exponentially. The respect that was lacking for these men and women so many years ago is being rightfully given to them.
The real catalyst for the change in perception came from the planning and building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Dedicated in 1982, it is fitting recognition for those who served in Vietnam. Inscribed on the black granite walls are the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died or remain missing.
According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization that raised the money and built the Wall, the memorial itself is dedicated to honor the “courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country” of all who answered the call to serve during the longest war in U.S. history.
No one who has seen the Wall can be unmoved by the experience. It is a powerful memorial that attracts all kinds of people who pay their respects to loved ones and others they may not know.
Now, the recognition of those on the Wall is being taken to another level. The Memorial Fund is building an Education Center at the Wall that will show the pictures and tell the stories of those who died in Vietnam.
Among their needs are photos of those named on the Wall.
The fund has established an online photo gallery, “Faces Never Forgotten,” that will also be on display at the Education Center. While the group has many photos, it is trying to track down photos of everyone who is named on the Wall.
If you visit the website, www.vvmf.org/wall-of-faces/, you can see the names and determine whether a photo is included. If there is no photo, and you have one, you can help.
In Grundy County, there are four listed without a photo:
• Michael B. Finn, South Wilmington
• Michael A. Giunta, South Chicago Heights
• David K. Jacobsgaard, Gardner
• Jesse L. Johnson, Morris
The photo for a fifth, Cecil L. Russell of Coal City, was recently added to the wall after a family member was alerted to the project through a column in The (Joliet) Herald-News, a sister publication to the Morris Daily Herald. If you have a photo of one of them, you can contact Morris Daily Herald Editor Kate Schott at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to submit it.
And even if you can’t help, you will find yourself emotionally connected to the effort by looking at the faces of those who died serving their country, reinforcing the debt we owe them for paying the ultimate price for freedom.
• The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, with additional information provided by the Morris Daily Herald