A mere mention of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in D.C. is enough to evoke emotional thoughts of the living remembering their fallen. On a daily basis, veterans, family members, friends and strangers alike are visibly impacted by the seemingly endless stretch of black granite that bears the names of 58,307 men and women who lost their priceless lives – or remain missing – due to that war. Some reach out their hand to touch the wall, some reverently read names, and thousands each year will leave behind an item in tribute (NPS approximates that 400,000 items have been kept in the collection since 1982). Eight summers ago, one visitor walked away with an experience that compelled her to help others literally see the veterans whose names were represented on that wall.
During a vacation with her husband to Washington, D.C. in 2008, Janna Hoehn of Kihei, Maui was one of the 4 million a year who visit “The Wall”. This was an important visit for her. She purposed to write down one name and learn more about that individual.
“Vietnam was my entire high school years, I recall the way the returning Veterans were treated. It always has stayed with me.” said Hoehn, “I have always had a huge place in my heart for Vietnam Veterans. Standing in front of the Vietnam Wall profoundly changed my life … I never dreamed how it would affect me.”
As she read through the etched names of soldiers, she noticed some had a diamond carved between the names, but a few had a cross. The explanation of those symbols would aid her in choosing a soldier’s name:
“I asked a man standing next to me why most the names had a diamond carved between the names, but a few had a cross, he explained to me the cross was an MIA. If the remains were ever returned to America then the cross could be easily made into a diamond. That is why I chose the name I did, I wanted an MIA after he explained it to me.”
She chose the name of Major Gregory John Crossman from Michigan. She found out that he was a 26-year-old pilot whose plane went down. April 25, 2016 marked 48 years that he has been missing in action.
She wanted to put a face to this name and story. “Putting a face with a name changes the whole dynamic of the Vietnam Wall. It makes that person real. [It is] someone’s loved one, a son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, nephew, best friend…” she said.
Later, she heard about Faces Never Forgotten, an effort by the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall Foundation to “put a face and a story to each name on The Wall”. Hoehn sent over Gregory’s photo, and about a week later, was contacted by Jan Scruggs, the program’s founder and president. He called to thank her for the photo, and enlisted her to help find photos of Maui’s fallen. “I was honored to do so.”, Hoehn said. In 6 months she found all 42 photos for the Maui fallen, then went on to help complete the entire state of Hawaii.
Her mission was far from over. She is committed to the difficult task of tracking down these photo of the fallen state by state. At the time of writing, she has to find photos of fallen Vietnam veterans in seven states. Those being: California (many), Texas (many), Washington (16), Colorado (15), Alaska (4), Utah (3), and Nevada (1).
The photos are displayed online on the “Wall of Faces”. The VVMF hopes to break ground by 2018 on a physical museum site. They will further recognize the fallen heroes by enlarging their photos on a floor to ceiling display on their birthdays.