Volunteer Searches For Photos of Vietnam Veterans

Source: Mariordo (Mario Roverto Durán Ortiz)  / Hu Totya
Source: Mariordo (Mario Roverto Durán Ortiz) / Hu Totya

Bobby Ray Bryant died in 1966 in Vietnam. He is one of 15 Vietnam veterans who do not have a photo with their online profile for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Janna Hoehn is a volunteer with the memorial. She has taken on the challenge of finding photos for every veteran lost in that war.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is in the process of raising $85 million to build an Education Center at the Wall. The facility will be built underground and will consist of two stories that will display photos and other historical items from the war.

“I truly remember how (Vietnam veterans) were treated when they came home, and they were treated terrible,” said Hoehn, who lives in Hawaii. “I’ve always had this huge place in my heart for Vietnam vets.”

Bobby Ray Bryant left Wichita East High School at the age of 17 to join the military. He felt it was his duty, as his father and grandfather were veterans.

“He wanted to go over there,” his son, Cassius Davis said. “My grandmother told me he wanted to be right in the middle of the skirmishes. I don’t know if he was a gung-ho type of person – I take it he just wanted to get over there and serve his country.”

While home on leave, he spent a romantic night with a friend and that was when Davis was conceived.

He returned for his second tour of Vietnam in January of 1966. He looked forward to coming back home to be a father and regularly wrote letters to Davis’ mother.

Already the recipient of the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in previous battles, Bryant was killed when his platoon was ambushed while on reconnaissance. At first Bryant had escaped, but he went back to help his platoon members. He was shot in the back and killed.

Davis was only five months old at the time. His mother had to be hospitalized when she heard the news. Davis, who now has a wife and two children, said he is a “proud son.”

“Me and my wife, we both had our grandparents and … my sons didn’t get a chance to have their grandfather around,” Davis said. “I’m not going to say that it bothered me, but it is kind of like something else that was missing. They did have my wife’s father and they were very close to him, but on my side of the family, I just wish he could have been around for his grandkids also.”

Davis and his wife intend to return to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial this summer. Davis still wears a metal bracelet with his father’s name and service dates engraved. He thinks of his father often.

Hoehn didn’t personally know anyone in the war but she was upset with the poor treatment veterans received when they returned. She has volunteered at the memorial since 2011. She searches for photos of veterans that do not have one displayed. She began by finding photos of all 42 soldiers killed from Maui County where she lives. She has since expanded to search for soldiers from the mainland.

When she’s not working her job as a florist, she spends her time looking for photos. “I put in over 40 hours a week on it,” she said. She’s found photos of every veteran from Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Utah. She’s recently begun searching for photos of veterans from Oklahoma and Kansas and is encouraged by the response so far.

652 Kansans died in Vietnam. There are 70 still missing pictures. “It’s quite a project and it’s not easy – this is true detective work,” she said. “We’re hoping that, once the museum opens, with the 4 million a year who visit the Wall, little by little we’re going to start getting better pictures.”

The Education Center will display soldier’s photos on their birthdays and have searchable databases. The construction of the Center is being funded by private donations.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE