Honoring Vietnam's fallen, picture by picture

Organizers of the Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces hope the public will upload photos of those killed or missing in Vietnam. Only names hold the spots still needing photos.

Organizers of the Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces hope the public will upload photos of those killed or missing in Vietnam. Only names hold the spots still needing photos.

They met on Christmas Day all those many years ago. Robert Szponder, 17, was the handsome guy with the denim blue eyes. He rode a black motorcycle and was just a few years away from the Army and war and death. Darlene Bernard was turning 15, just one semester into her freshman year of high school.

They sat across from each other in her living room, staring and flirting until the distance of strangers had melted. The holiday visitor became her boyfriend for almost three years, endless afternoons on the beach holding hands, and talks about a future until he was gone in the summer of 1968, some 10,000 miles away, a soldier drafted into the Vietnam War. That chapter would end two years later with Szponder's body returned to South Florida as a war casualty, shot in the heart by a sniper in the Binh Dinh province in 1970. Robert Allan Szponder was 21.

Four decades later, with a new Vietnam War education center planned, the urgent call came for photos of the more than 58,000 Americans who died or remain missing — service men and women who never had the chance to become veterans — and Bernard went to her stash of memories, submitting photos and writing about the man she loved, her small contribution to a national campaign to humanize the wreckage of the war.

The names of the lost have already been etched in the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, known simply as the Wall. But now with photos, stories from the trenches and the tiniest details, dead and missing members of the armed forces who served can be fully remembered.

"Bobby was the love of my life," said Bernard, 62, now living in Pompano Beach. "I want people to know that Bobby was a good person. He had a great personality and sense of humor. He wanted to do the right thing and was serious about serving the country."

With 26,551 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall still without faces or back stories to honor them — 1,138 from Florida alone — memorial leaders are renewing an effort to collect more photos and remembrances. The call for contributions encourages friends and families to send their photos to personalize the names on the memorial wall on the National Mall. What is collected is added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's virtual Wall of Faces ( vvmf.org), a website honoring the war dead and missing, and will become part an interactive feature in the new Education Center at the Wall, due to open in 2014.

"The pictures are integral to the center and the visitor experience. They bring the person to life by putting a face to a name," said Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "The names alone are powerful, but when you look at a picture, it does something different to you emotionally. It's also chilling to see a name and the place where a photo should be is empty.''

The Wall, dedicated in 1982, was built as a symbol of healing, a way of distinguishing the people who served in the military from the unpopular U.S. policy carried out in Vietnam. It attracts about 4.5 million visitors annually to see familiar names and also to appreciate the magnitude of the loss.

The memorial stretches across two walls, each composed of 72 separate inscribed panels. Szponder's name is inscribed on panel 8W, row 67.

Much of the tribute remains faceless. More than half of the 58,282 names on the wall also have a photo or biography on the virtual site. The hope is that every member of the U.S. forces that served is eventually remembered, that no story is left behind.

But the war ended more than 38 years ago and memories are slipping away.

"This is urgent in that we want to get the photos before it's too late, before they are lost to history," said Scruggs, the wounded and decorated Vietnam veteran who led the effort to build the memorial. "Just about every day we get a photograph. . . . Now a lot are coming from siblings as their parents are in their 80s and 90s. Sometimes we get good candid photos from Vietnam where buddies took the photos and brought them back when they returned.''

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed legislation authorizing the VVMF to build an underground educational facility near the Wall as a way of helping future generations understand and appreciate the legacy of those who served. The center, expected to cost about $95 million, will feature pictures and stories of those who were lost as well as some of the more than 150,000 items left at the memorial.

The material posted online comes mostly from family, friends, classmates and surviving members of military units. Beyond the photos, the remembrances offer the most vivid, personal details that put the names on the wall into context.

Among the 1,138 fallen from Florida who remain faceless in the archive, there are 35 from St. Petersburg, 84 from Tampa and 13 from Clearwater, who served in every branch of the military.

Others are remembered in photos and recollections, frozen in time.

For St. Petersburg's Herbert William "Bill" Scott III, 21, killed in a U.S. Army helicopter explosion on June 12, 1968, his sisters Susan and Sheila posted remembrances. Sheila Scott Gordon wrote: "My son, and your nephew was visiting you at the Wall today. He is now a Naval Officer and reminds me so much of you. His brother and sister always visit you at the Wall when they are in D.C. and your memory is being passed on through them. You are so missed."

Scott is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

"What do we have left to remember Bill by?" Susan Scott McDonald wrote. "In my closet rests a cherished box of tapes he sent to us and a now-antiquated tape recorder. He sounds as clear to me as if he were sitting next to me, enthusiastically recounting his arrival in Vietnam and his respectful wonder at the countryside and the people. I wince as I hear his cold getting worse as the tapes progress."

Susan named her son after her brother.

But for other names, there are no photos, no personal remembrances and the barest of details, such as Bobby Elmer Gray, a 20-year-old Marine listed as being from Tampa who died on July 7, 1970. Or Howard W. Snitchler, 21, an Army private first class from Largo who died on April 28, 1968, and is buried at Riverhurst Cemetery in Endicott, N.Y.

Among those still considered missing in action is Army Capt. Thomas I. Ledbetter, 28, of Tampa.

Ledbetter went missing during a two-day search and destroy mission on June 17, 1964. He is among the first casualties of the war from the Tampa Bay area.

"As an American, I would like to thank you for your service and for your sacrifice made on behalf of our wonderful country. The youth of today could gain much by learning of heroes such as yourself, men and women whose courage and heart can never be questioned," Curt Carter posted in a remembrance in June. "May God allow you to read this, and may he allow me to someday shake your hand when I get to Heaven to personally thank you."

Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report.

Missing photos, stories from Tampa Bay

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is looking to match faces and stories to the names of more than 58,000 Americans who were killed or are still missing from the Vietnam War. Below is a list of names and the date of birth of some of the people from the Tampa Bay area who remain without photos. To submit a photo or search the entire list, visit vvmf.org.

Tampa

Eugene A. Aaron, March 11, 1951

Edwin C. Allen, Jan. 26, 1950

Wayne C. Baggett, March 14, 1950

Michael B. Baptiste, June 4, 1948

Morrie C. Barber, April 28, 1948

Roy D. Bassett Jr., Oct. 5, 1942

James B. Bell Jr., July 1, 1943

John Bell Jr., Jan. 26, 1945

Robert L. Bellamy, Oct. 14, 1947

Rosten W. Bishop, Feb. 20, 1933

John R. Bregler, Jan. 24, 1949

Marchvin M. Burns, Dec. 7, 1943

Gilberto Bustamante, March 10, 1949

Terry L. Charles, June 3, 1949

John H. Clark Jr., Sept. 21, 1947

Michael H. Collins, April 6, 1947

George T. Cox, June 22, 1939

Joseph W. Davis, Sept. 29, 1950

Danny E. Deese, July 29, 1949

Thomas E. Denhoff, Jan. 1, 1948

Gregory J. Denton, Oct. 25, 1947

Douglas S. Dubose, Jan. 20, 1947

Ezekeil T. Exum, Aug. 1, 1945

Isiah Foster, Feb. 11, 1944

Richard Galan, March 26, 1939

Henry J. Gallant, Sept. 30, 1929

Aaron Z. Glazar, June 4, 1947

Alvin M. Goodwin, Jan. 16, 1949

Johnnie Grant, March 29, 1943

Bobby E. Gray, Dec. 31, 1949

Herbert L. Gregory III, March 4, 1947

Marchvin J. Gude, Oct. 5, 1948

Michael R. Hall, Dec. 8, 1947

Brian C. Heath, Nov. 17, 1948

Robert Herald, Dec. 29, 1948

Patrick B. Hession, Oct. 9, 1949

Rudolph Hinojosa Jr., April 6, 1950

Marchshall W. Hunt, Jan. 18, 1948

Norris F. Johnson, Sept. 19, 1947

Aldon C. Jones, Jan. 28, 1933

Randolph C. Kett, April 10, 1947

Thomas F. Lawler, Nov. 19, 1949

Francis M. Lawrence Jr., Nov. 20, 1946

Thomas I. Ledbetter, May 26, 1936

Humberto Llamazales, Sept. 10, 1946

Thomas J. Marchtino, June 8, 1948

John D. Mccarty, June 1, 1946

Wesley J. McKinney, Aug. 31, 1948

Frank E. McNutt, Feb. 1, 1944

Harold L. Montana, April 18, 1933

Gene A. Mooney Jr., May 7, 1948

Harold W. Morales, Aug. 12, 1946

Richard L. Moss, Sept. 18, 1945

Henry A. Musa Jr., Dec. 3, 1928

Richard D. Osborn, June 18, 1935

Hubert Palmer, Oct. 31, 1930

Gerald M. Pina, March 7, 1947

James P. Proctor, April 10, 1946

Angelo Pullara, Sept. 28, 1933

Charles F. Rein, Aug. 12, 1947

Gary H. Rogers, Aug. 5, 1945

Joe T. Russell, Oct. 31, 1948

James H. Saxton Jr., Aug. 1, 1950

Francis B. Schmitt, Nov. 30, 1943

Richie H. Schmitt, Oct. 13, 1943

Joseph R. Scott, July 8, 1946

Erich Simkaitis, Jan. 22, 1943

Jerome Sims, Sept. 25, 1945

George H. Smith, Oct. 25, 1948

James P. Smith, July 26, 1947

John A. Smith, March 19, 1949

Larry E. Smith, Jan. 19, 1947

David W. Starcher, Feb. 24, 1950

John A. Sutherland, July 9, 1947

William L. Taylor, Dec. 19, 1941

Charles E. Thomas, Aug. 13, 1948

Joseph P. Turnbull, Sept. 26, 1948

Ralph A. Vitch, March 4, 1949

Thomas Walker, Sept. 27, 1934

Edward O. Weiman, March 18, 1949

Alfonzia Williams, March 5, 1942

Robert L. Williams, May 15, 1946

Samuel Williams, March 8, 1941

St. Petersburg

Timothy D. Amick, Dec. 31, 1951

Ralph T. Anderson, May 31, 1949

Moses J. Bacote, Sept. 9, 1945

David A. Ballou, Oct. 22, 1946

James W. Barksdale, Jan. 30, 1938

John H. Battle, Oct. 13, 1950

Thomas W. Bayonet, Dec. 1, 1946

Ruben Bell Jr., April 26, 1948

Robert C. Bowman, Oct. 21, 1942

Alexander B. Brantley, Nov. 21, 1941

Randolph T. Butler, Sept. 1, 1947

Lawrence C. Clausen, Dec. 6, 1947

Kevin T. Connolly, Nov. 19, 1947

Johnie K. Culbreath, May 9, 1944

Jack L. Decaire, April 24, 1946

John T. Demaline, Sept. 13, 1945

Terrence G. Dixon, Dec. 25, 1945

Willard F. Elder, April 17, 1945

William G. Gray, Dec. 16, 1948

Gregory E. Hankins, June 12, 1948

Edward O. Haskett, July 7, 1949

Harold T. Henesy, April 10, 1946

Cleveland Holmes, Dec. 24, 1948

Dwight H. Jones, Dec. 29, 1950

Milford Jones, Oct. 26, 1946

Bruce W. Loiselle, Dec. 19, 1947

Edward M. Miller, May 9, 1949

Arthur R. Moody III, Aug. 8, 1943

Mark F. Powers, Oct. 28, 1948

James R. Whitmore, Feb. 3, 1949

Joseph Wiggins, Oct. 10, 1946

Ben H. Williams, July 25, 1949

John R. Wilson, May 28, 1946

Phillip E. Wyatt, Nov. 13, 1945

Robert P. Wyatt, Nov. 7, 1948

Clearwater

Jeffrey D. Annable, June 16, 1948

John J. Avella, Dec. 16, 1947

Christos C. Bogiages Jr., March 30, 1934

Barry R. Delphin, April 21, 1940

Morris F. Dixon Jr., March 14, 1941

Eddie G. Gay, Oct. 24, 1948

Robert A. Mcintosh, June 2, 1942

William I. Nelson II, June 26, 1945

Michael J. Saunders, Dec. 13, 1948

Robert F. Shaw, Jan. 9, 1948

Bobby L. Smith, May 9, 1946

John J. Van Vleck, Dec. 25, 1928

Edward W. Williams, Sept. 13, 1950

Brooksville

Denver D. Colburn Jr., Feb. 25, 1941

Charles B. Keathley, July 28, 1947

Washington M. Langley, Feb. 24, 1951

Hercules L. Moore, Sept. 6, 1947

Honoring Vietnam's fallen, picture by picture 09/13/13 [Last modified: Saturday, September 14, 2013 6:44pm]

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