The Faces Behind the Names: The Vietnam War, edited by Don Ward, The Memorial Press, Bloomington, Minn., 1996, $50.
Among the treasured books in my late father-in-law’s library was a three-volume work, Soldiers of the Great War, listing by state the names of those 106,378 soldiers and Army nurses killed in action or who died of wounds, accidents and disease in World War I. When they were available, photographs of those who died and some of the 193,663 who were wounded (my father-in-law was one of them) were also included. The work was published in 1920 by the Soldiers Record Publishing Association, formed by two veterans of that war who were in training camp when the war ended and a civilian then engaged in war work in Washington.
Seventy-six years later, a similar work was published to memorialize those who died in the Vietnam War. Edited by Don Ward, a Navy Vietnam-era veteran, this first volume is limited to those from Minnesota. Ward lists the names of the 1,081 Minnesotans who were killed in action and died of other causes during the Vietnam War or who remain missing in action, together with their hometowns and branch of service.
The project was conceived in July 1995 as a way to put “a human side to the names that are etched on the Vietnam Memorial in St. Paul, Minnesota.” Ward soon found that so many years have passed since the Vietnam War that many parents have passed away and other family members have moved, so locating family members became a very challenging task.
Thanks to members of the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Memorial Board, who had the addresses of the families of 700 of the 1,081 men listed on the wall and who were willing to help out with the project and spread Ward’s call for assistance, 414 families responded with photographs, biographies, family statements and–in some cases–last letters home. It is these individual entries that make up most of Ward’s The Faces Behind the Names.
And a heart-wrenching work it is, beginning with the award-winning book jacket showing Corporal Timothy G. Robinson–killed on April 19, 1968, while serving with the 101st Airborne Division–at home on leave, with his baby nephew wearing his service hat. On the reverse is a photo of Robinson in the field, an M-60 machine gun on his shoulder and a belt of ammunition around his neck. Both are superimposed over the names of Minnesotans killed in the war.
This volume is only the start. “There are over 58,000 names etched upon the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.,” Ward says. “It is the goal of the Memorial Press to seek out and tell these stories, as well as the many untold stories from the surviving Vietnam Veterans….Hopefully these stories will help erase our collective amnesia concerning the Vietnam War.”
Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr.