By Chip Hutcheson, Kentucky Today
The Bible is full of reminders — instructing God’s people to remember and memorialize His faithfulness.
One of the first seen in scripture is Gen. 9 when God set a bow in the cloud to be a reminder that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood. Another powerful reminder is in Joshua 4 when the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River. Joshua instructed 12 men to gather 12 stones and establish a memorial. The reason? When the children asked what the stones meant, it provided a teaching moment about how God cut off the flow of the Jordan “so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.”
Those reminders of God’s faithfulness should be paramount in our lives — prompting us to reflect on His hand of blessing upon our country since its founding. When we do that, we cannot help but remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend and preserve the freedoms that we now enjoy.
A giant stride toward remembering the fallen occurred in the past few weeks, culminating more than two decades of work. A photo of every person killed in the Vietnam conflict has been located and can be viewed on the Wall of Faces (www.vvmf.org/wall-of-faces).
The website features a photo of every one of the 58,281 service members whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — allowing people to put a face to each name. Not only are there photos, but a profile of every one lists the individual’s name, rank, branch of service, date of birth, date of death, hometown, county and state and where the person died.
It took people from across the country searching for photos, but one of the instrumental people was Andrew Johnson, publisher at that time of the Dodge County Pioneer in Horicon, Wis.
I became aware of this picture-hunting effort in 2015 during my term as president of the National Newspaper Association when Andrew — a member of that association’s board of directors who would become president in 2018 — sought to enlist newspapers from across the country to help in gathering missing photos of the thousands of people who gave their lives for this country in its most unpopular war. He arranged for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to have a representative attend the newspaper convention to help promote the hunt for pictures.
For Andrew and his wife, Laura, it was personal — not because of Vietnam, but because of the death of their son, 1Lt. David Johnson, killed in 2012 by an IED while serving as base commander in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
Andrew’s passion to focus on the sacrifice of those Vietnam casualties was fueled by his and Laura’s faith and a desire to honor their son’s legacy.
“Before David was killed, he had met with our pastor and told him he felt God led him to lead men into battle — that was his purpose in life,” Andrew said. “He told the pastor there was a good chance he was not going to come back, that where he was going was one of most dangerous parts of the world. We’re sad David passed away, we have great hope because of our belief in our Lord and knowing that David is in heaven. We have the assurance because of being believers, as sad as this separation is, it gives us great hope. We will see him again.
“It would be nice to die,” Andrew said, “but as Philippians says, to live is Christ, to die is gain. But until that time, I believe God has a mission for us. We hope that David’s story will encourage others to follow the Lord. The big lesson is that it is not how long you live, but how well you live. David impacted a lot of people and saved lives in military service. His death has brought a lot of people together — a lot knew he was a Christian. As sad as it is, I believe good will come out of it. I don’t think I could have made it after David’s death if I was not a believer. The farther I get from 2012, it doesn’t change things, but it changes perspective. We’re living by faith. We are highly motivated to fulfill our mission, and we keep working toward it — my whole purpose to live is to serve the Lord.
“There is a hope and a future, and David’s short life (he died at 24) hopefully will influence others. David would do it again — his men said he fought battles two to three times a day, and said he was never afraid of the enemy. He allowed himself to be a target, but would direct his men fast enough so he wouldn’t be killed.”
The quest to find those 58,281 photos is especially significant for the Johnsons. “The names are not just names — these are real people and each one has a story. I am glad there is a picture for each one of them, and there should be.
“It was an honor to serve our great republic by honoring our Vietnam era heroes by finding their photos,” Johnson noted. “As I worked on the project, many Vietnam veterans embraced me and let me know how much they loved my son and would never forget him as they were often forgotten. In turn I would always tell them, ‘welcome home, you and your fallen military buddies will never be forgotten,’” said Johnson.
The story of how this massive project was finalized has provided a forum for people like Johnson to give voice to a wide audience about the importance of faith in Christ.
Johnson is no longer in the newspaper business, believing that he had accomplished all he could in that role after 30-plus years. Now he is a full-time student at Regent University, working on a master’s degree, and has been elected a county supervisor — the third highest member on the 33-person county board.
“Today, the Wall of Faces tells these stories through photos and remembrances left by both friends and family members. We couldn’t have done this without the tenacious work of a small army of volunteers across the country. Their ingenuity, commitment and dedication are tremendous,” said Jim Knotts, president and CEO of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
“This phase is now complete, but our team and many volunteers are continuing to seek better quality photos and adding remembrances to show the full story behind each name. We ask the public to look at the photos on the Wall of Faces and add additional higher-quality images as well as leave remembrances so that with the name, the photos and the remembrances — fuller stories will begin to emerge about each of these heroes,” added Knotts.
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