Faces Never Forgotten
Janna Hoehn is on a treasure hunt of sorts.
County by county, the Southern California native, who now lives in Maui, is searching for photographs of American servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War.
Her pursuit isn't for personal gain or notoriety. Hoehn hopes to contribute to a national treasure and richer understanding of a seminal event in her life that reshaped the American fabric for more than a decade.
"It was something I lived with every day of my high school years," said Hoehn, a 1973 Hemet High School graduate.
"I didn't lose any family members, but I saw two cousins come home," Hoehn said. "I remember how they were treated and how much it bothered me even as an 18-year-old. I couldn't understand it."
Years later, she visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"It was the first memorial on my list," said Hoehn, a florist by trade. "I wanted a rubbing of one of the names. I approached The Wall and chose a name: (U.S. Air Force Maj.) Gregory John Crossman, an MIA."
That simple act of remembrance triggered an all-absorbing effort to help find photos of every American in arms who fell in Vietnam. She now volunteers for the Faces Never Forgotten program, an effort to put a face and a story to each name on The Wall. To date, volunteers have rounded up about 39,400 photos (adding to them daily) for the 58,300 names on the wall.
The photos appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's Wall of Faces page, at www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces. The website allows friends, family and others to post remembrances and tributes for each fallen veteran.
Military records associate 35 of the fallen with Jackson County. So far, 19 pictures represent those lives. Another 16 photos are needed to complete the roll call.
"Once the names are listed, the mailing starts," Hoehn said. "It just amazes me. If people don't have a photograph, a lot of them will tell me which high school they graduated from."
Back home in Maui, Hoehn began looking for Crossman's family, hoping to send relatives the etching, hoping they would share a photo.
"Off and on for six months I researched every way possible and never found any family," she said. Six months later, her cousin located a photo. But her mission had just begun.
In 2011, she saw a story about Faces Never Forgotten and forwarded the photo of Crossman to the organization. Less than a week later, she received an email from Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund who led the effort to establish The Wall starting in 1979. The Wall was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982.
"He thanked me for sending the photo — the first for this soldier — and asked me if I could help him find the photos for the 42 Maui County soldiers that were killed in Vietnam," Hoehn said.
Six months later, she had a picture of every Maui soldier who had died in the war and expanded her search to the other three Hawaiian counties. She headed to the mainland a couple of years ago, taking on California's 58 counties. Only three of those counties — Alpine, Del Norte and Mariposa — escaped the death toll. Last year, Hoehn extended her horizons once more, taking on Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The war that spilled over into Cambodia and Laos ended more than 40 years ago. Many of the parents whose boys were killed have died in the intervening decades.
"A large percentage of the parents and even some of the siblings have passed away," Hoehn said. "I'm thrilled when I hear from a classmate who sends an email with an old yearbook scan, or can tell me exactly what year they graduated. You know the birth date, but you don't know if they were 17 or 18 when they joined or if they enlisted their senior year and didn't graduate."
Hoehn's quest to put faces to names shines a light on the courageous and heartbreaking stories of those who were lost in the Vietnam War, a protracted conflict that lasted from 1954 to 1975.
In Jackson County, it was with a heavy heart that military officials knocked on Harvey and Grace Rowden's door in the Applegate Valley twice — in March 1966 and again in February 1968. Their son Marine Corps Pvt. James Herbert Rowden, 21, was killed in combat March 5, 1966, near Quang Ngai. He was the father of two and the first serviceman from Jackson County to die in the war. Less than two years later, the second of four brothers, Marine Corps Pvt. John Wayne Rowden, 21, was killed Feb. 10 while on an operation near Thua Thien. He had gone "to settle a score" for his fallen brother. The next day, Douglas T. Rowden, 19, received notice from the Selective Service Board to report for his physical. The family received a deferment.
Capt. Brooke McKay Shadburne, of Ashland, was a seasoned Marine Corps helicopter pilot when he died on April 5, 1967, in Quang Ngai. He was flying a Huey medical evacuation helicopter along with Capt. Alan J. Dean when they came under heavy fire. Field reports state the aircraft hit a mine on the landing field and blew up as it took a wounded Marine on board.
Navy Capt. Ernest A. Stamm's home of record is listed as Medford but his local ties are somewhat shrouded in mystery.
He was born July 18, 1931, in Butte, Mont., and graduated from Medford High School in 1949. How his family ended up in the Rogue Valley is not known. A city directory from that period indicates his family lived on West Main Street.
Stamm entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1950 and was commissioned an ensign on June 4, 1954. He entered flight training in July 1956. He flew F9F-8B Cougar, FJ-4B Fury and A-4 Skyhawk planes. After attending nuclear weapons training, he became a special weapons officer.
For a year, beginning in November 1967, he flew missions off the USS Constellation. On Nov. 25, 1968, piloting an unarmed aircraft, Stamm led a photographic mission over North Vietnam. His plane was struck by anti-aircraft artillery and he lost control, forcing him to eject in enemy territory. He was taken as a prisoner of war and died in captivity on Jan. 16, 1969. His remains were returned to the U.S. on March 13, 1974. He is buried in Collinsville, Ill.
Photos of the Rowden brothers, Shadburne and Stamm are in hand, but others have been harder to come by.
Take Army Cpl. Larry Ott, who was buried in Medford's Siskiyou Memorial Park after his death on Feb. 15, 1971.
Ott had been performing a routine hover check with four other crew members just before 8 p.m. that day outside the Alpha Co. area along the Phu Bai berm line in the Thua Thien province. As their CH-47 Chinook returned to its maintenance base 15 minutes later, it climbed into a heavy mist. What happened at that point is unclear, but witnesses said the aircraft came out of the mist and struck the ground nose first, killing all aboard.
In a remembrance written in 2004 on Ott's Wall of Faces page, comrade Thomas Page said, "You had such a great sense of humor you shared with the rest of us in the 159th that helped us get by. You will be remembered in the hearts of your co-workers forever."
Then there is Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Betz, whose family lived on Camp Baker Road outside of Phoenix.
Betz, who was born in 1926, enlisted in the Navy during World War II and moved on to the Merchant Marines. He then joined the Army when the U.S. became embroiled in southeast Asia hostilities. He died in Bien Hoa. The Mail Tribune reported he was killed in action on Aug. 6, 1969.
"Every time I make up a (county) list and I come to a birth date such as Samuel Betz in 1926, my heart does a skip," Hoehn said. "Those are the hardest ones to find. But sometimes someone from the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) will call saying they have a picture hanging in their post. Sometimes people will look at our lists and say they have a cousin in Texas or Wisconsin. I would say 95 percent of the time, we don't have their photo yet. Sometimes it takes real detective work."
Photos or information on local veterans who died in the Vietnam War can be sent to Hoehn at email@example.com.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is now working toward building an Education Center near The Wall to showcase the photos and stories of each fallen veteran. For more information about the Education Center, go to www.vvmf.org/thewall.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.