Four faces, four photographs to go:
- Tommy R. Henderson, Los Angeles, U.S. Army
- John E. Magee, Los Angeles, U.S. Army
- Vernon P. Smith, Los Angeles, U.S. Navy
- Frank Spotwood Jr., San Francisco, U.S. Army
The mission: To find their photos and submit them to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall’s virtual Wall of Faces. Ah, if only it were that simple.
The Vietnam War claimed the lives of 5,575 Californians among the 58,213 war dead whose names grace the Wall in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the online Wall of Faces is to collect and match a face to every name on the actual Wall. Beginning in 2013, Janna Hoehn of Hawaii has collected and submitted over 2,000 Californians’ photos, along with those of tens of thousands of other fallen from across the U.S.
In 2017, members of the California State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America joined the effort, with 430 Californians’ photos still missing from the Wall. They whittled it down to three, but learned recently that Wall administrators deemed a photo of Spotwood to be too blurry to use. That means they are back to four, and it only strengthens their resolve to finish the mission, said Mike Kennedy of the Inland Empire Chapter.
The usual starting place is the home of record, and searching high school yearbooks for photos. That becomes a much simpler process when it involves the fallen from smaller cities and towns. In this case, three of the four men came from Los Angeles while Spotwood was from San Francisco.
“However, in the case of individuals from Los Angeles that is extremely difficult because there are approximately 70 high schools in LA,” Kennedy said. “The Home of Record gives no clue about what part of the city they lived in, so we have not been able to narrow our search.”
COVID-19 added a more recent roadblock. The school libraries and public libraries offering access to yearbooks in those cities shut down during the spring, in March, due to the outbreak.
Finally, the Homes of Record themselves might be off base, Kennedy said.
“The other problem with each of the names on our list is that our searches have led to records indicating they were born in other states and are actually buried in those states,” he said. “There are also records showing strong connections to other locations inside and outside California for where the individuals lived. In some cases it calls into question whether the Home of Record data is correct.”
No matter. Their mission does not change. Nor does their determination to match a photo to the face of every Californian whose name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall’s Wall of Faces.
“We continue our search for any information that might lead to a family member, friend, or military comrade who might be able to help,” Kennedy said.
Please contact Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a relative of, knew them, attended school with them, or served with any of these men:
- Spec. 4 Tommy R. Henderson, U.S. Army, A Co, 2nd Bn, 506th Infantry, 101st Abn Div, USARV. Home of Record: Los Angeles. Died 3/3/1971.
- Pfc. John E. Magee, U.S. Army, C Co, 4th Bn, 47th Infantry, 9th Inf Div, USARV. Home of Record: Los Angeles. Died 5/12/1968.
- Seaman Vernon P. Smith, U.S. Navy, NAVSUPACT Da Nang, YFU-67, USNAVFORV. Home of Record: Los Angeles. Died 2/5/1968.
- Spec. 4 Frank Spotwood, U.S. Army, A Co, 2nd Bn, 27th Infantry, 25th Inf Div, USARV. Home of Record: San Francisco. Died 6/16/1968.