Posted October 14, 2022
The Wall of Faces project, which sought photographs of the more than 58,000 fallen soldiers honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has been completed after more than two decades of work, according to organizers.
The memorial includes two soldiers from the River Falls community.
The Wall of Faces matched a face to all 58,281 names on the memorial, allowing families and friends to share pictures, stories, and connect with one another.
The soldiers from River Falls are John Thomas Chapman and Thomas Joseph Murphy.
Chapman served in the Marine Corps as a captain. Many people who went to high school with Chapman posted on the website that he was a great athlete, a gentle giant, and many said he could have been president.
Murphy served in the army as a specialist. Many people wrote about his involvement in baseball, his Silver Star award, and long radio chats at bootcamp.
These are just a few examples of stories that people like retired newspaper publisher Andrew Johnson worked tirelessly to help match the name to the face.
Johnson, who owned three different newspapers and is a previous president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, encouraged small newspapers around the country to help find all of the pictures for the Wall of Faces project.
Johnson was involved in the project from 2013-2020. During his time he was able to help states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, and many others collect every picture needed. Only one state collected all of the pictures before Wisconsin.
Johnson originally met with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and talked about the idea. After gaining support he distributed the 450 names that still needed pictures to newspapers in the veterans hometowns. In the papers that he helped Johnson would still publish the last missing names of all of the Wisconsin veterans even if all the names were found in the city.
Johnson said that “Veterans Day and Memorial Day is when we did the big pushes because the momentum was there.”
When just 64 names were left, Johnson was struggling. A professor at UW-Milwaukee heard about the project and reached out asking if their students could help. The last 64 were all found by student journalists as part of an investigative journalism assignment.
One picture that Johnson remembers finding was the last for Wisconsin, Willy Deadfurd. Deadfurd was a 17-year-old from Milwaukee who signed his enlistment papers in Wisconsin but originally lived in Arkansas. Johnson even went as far as to ask the governor to talk about him during his Memorial Day speech.
As for how he feels about the Wall of Faces being complete, Johnson said, “I am so very proud and I know that my son David, who was killed in Afghanistan, would be proud.”
To Johnson the meaning of this project has great significance.
“You realize that life is very special,” he said, “and that many sacrifices have been made for our freedom as an American and that we should get up every morning and with that freedom we should live every day to the fullest and live while we can.”