As we prepare to observe Flag Day Friday in the shadow of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, our thoughts are on all those who have fallen while fighting for freedom under the Stars and Stripes.
In particular, they have turned this past week to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund Wall of Faces campaign. Five years ago, we eagerly enlisted in the effort to put a face with the name of every soldier who died in that long and divisive war.
Thanks to the dedication of relatives, our readers, veterans' groups, librarians and volunteers, photos have been located for more than four dozen fallen Vietnam veterans from Rock Island, Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties. But despite area volunteers' best efforts, the faces of two of our community's fallen heroes continued to elude us. Until now.
When we visited vvmf.org Tuesday morning to search for the names of Army Pfc. Wayne Morris Lenderman of Rock Island and Marine Pfc. Lawrence Edward Howard of Morrison, we were surprised, elated and relieved to see color photographs of both of them looking back at us.
We're not certain who found and posted the photo of Lenderman, who was just 18 when he fell Oct. 12, 1969, in Binh Dinh province. Or the one of Howard, a Marine, who died on Sept. 16, 1967, in Quang Nam province, just short of his 20th birthday.
But we're grateful for their efforts to honor both of these local heroes. Now, thanks to them and many others, visitors to the wall at vvmf.org can see the faces of all 53 of the Rock Island County soldiers who fell in service to our nation in Southeast Asia. The addition of Howard's photo also means the faces of every one of Whiteside County's 22 fallen men are represented on the wall.
During our visit, we also were encouraged to note that scores more faces have been found for the 200 Illinois heroes who were still missing from the wall last November. When we returned to search the website on Tuesday, 14 of Illinois' fallen still had no photo attached to their profiles. That's impressive progress. So is the fact that photos of just 882 of the estimated 38,318 men who fell victim to the war in Vietnam still were missing.
It's truly remarkable that so many of these missing heroes' photos have been located after all this time. Especially when you consider that the photo search gets harder by the day as Vietnam veterans and their brothers and sisters continue to age and our legion of Vietnam Gold Star families are dying.
When we joined this campaign, like Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of VVMF, we wanted to remind those who visited that wall that "these men were real people, who had dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. When you look at them, you can truly humanize what The Wall represents.”
It's impossible to view the sea of faces that crowd the virtual wall and not be moved by the tremendous sacrifice, loss, patriotism and heroism each man represents. Honoring them through this digital database is the least we can do. That campaign to honor them isn't over, of course, until every face is found. But the finish line is tantalizingly close.
We wish communities across the nation well in their efforts to put faces to names of every fallen hero. Wouldn't it be amazing if they managed to do so in time for Veterans Day 2019?