‘A Needle in a Haystack': Project Seeks Photos of Fallen Service Members

Vermont's state archivist is helping put a face to the names of service members from Vermont who were killed in Vietnam.

"It is a needle in a haystack, so to speak," Tanya Marshall said.

The archivist is seeking 23 photographs currently missing from the Wall of Faces, a digital project from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The VVMF has been working to locate a photo for each of the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

The online memorial contains biographical information of service members and space for web users to offer reflections about each person's life and service.

The 23 photographs Marshall is looking for are of men who all lived in Vermont at the time they enlisted or were drafted.

"We've identified family members we believe we can contact," Marshall told necn in an interview at the archivist's headquarters in Middlesex Friday. "It's not uncommon from that era for people to not have a lot of photos, and if they do, they're family photos."

Perry Melvin, the president of the Vermont State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, praised Marshall's efforts and said he hopes she locates all the photographs she's seeking.

"They're going to see those names and if they click on, they're going to see a face and have some biographical information," Melvin said of what a visitor to the online Wall of Faces will find if they want to learn more about a service member who was killed in action. "And all of a sudden that person's real. But without that, the wall is just a bunch of names."

Marshall said she has been using various research techniques to find information about the Vermonters killed in Vietnam, and spreading her call for photos on social media. Each day, from her Twitter handle @VTStateArchives, Marshall has been tweeting a plea to the public to help locate the missing photos.

Recently, Marshall notched a big success, she said, locating a photo on Ancestry.com of Staff Sergeant Gelasio Gomez, from Barre, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968 at age 29.

"You can tell he went into the service with goals and ambitions," Marshall said, observing Gomez's big smile in the portrait she submitted to the VVMF's Wall of Faces. "[Locating the photo] was very satisfying. I just wish we were able to find more."

Marshall said she was inspired to launch the project after learning of Oregon's success in matching photos to names that had been missing on the Wall of Faces.

"If the state of Oregon can do it, and they have over 700, I think Vermont can do it," Marshall told necn.

The archivist is asking Vermonters to post about the search on Facebook and Twitter, to try to raise awareness in hopes of reaching people who may have photos. She also said she will attempt to track down yearbooks in the cases of service members who completed high school before joining the military.

Marshall promised to keep at her project, hoping to shrink to zero the number of missing photos of Vermonters who gave all in Vietnam.

"I'm thinking of reaching out to my colleagues in other states and have them embrace it as well," Marshall told necn.

Web users can conduct an "advanced search" on the Wall of Faces to locate names of fallen service members who still need photos to illustrate their information.

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