CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are 58,286 names carved into the stone of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Officials for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built and maintains The Wall, want to find a photograph for every single one of them.
"The whole idea is to give some context to the names, so they aren't just names carved into a wall," said John Dibble, 67, chairman of the board for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "They were people with families and comrades and friends and families."
Dibble, a former U.S. Navy Swift Boat skipper and forward operating base commander who served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, said the keepers of The Wall are collecting photographs of those whose names are on the memorial for inclusion in a two-story high Wall of Faces, part of a Vietnam War education center that would be built between The Wall and the Lincoln Memorial. The education center would contain artifacts left by the 4.2 million people who visit The Wall every year. It also would contain history and other information about the Vietnam era.
Dibble said fundraising for the $95 million high-tech center is about 30 percent complete. Organizers hope to have the center built by 2018.
Dibble said The Wall is the second-most visited monument in Washington, behind the Lincoln Memorial. Many of the visitors to the memorial, he said, weren't even born when the Vietnam War was raging.
Organizers already have collected about 32,000 photographs of veterans whose names are carved into the wall. Veterans on the wall can be searched by name, city, county or state on the Memorial Fund's website, www.vvmf.org.
According to the site, 733 West Virginians are included on The Wall. Memorial Fund officials still need photographs for 479 of them.
Dibble said adding faces to the names on The Wall will help humanize the conflict.