After more than two years of hard work and grueling searches, it is “mission accomplished” for Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1036 in The Villages.
Back in February of 2016, the local Vietnam vets’ organization helped lead the drive to find 777 missing pictures from the total of 1,957 Floridians killed in Vietnam.
Johnny Byard and John Thomstatter led Chapter 1036’s drive to locate missing pictures of those who gave their lives serving this country.
“It wasn’t easy and there were a lot of sad stories, but this was something we had to do to remember and honor our people who died there,” said Byard, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Vietnam.
“We don’t want these people to ever be forgotten,” added Thomstatter, who also served in the Army during the Vietnam War. “We will never turn our backs on them.”
It’s all part of a national effort by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The VVMF hopes to build “The Education Center at the Wall,” home of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. It will be “an interactive learning facility” on the National Mall.
As part of that effort, a photo of everyone who is listed on the Wall will be displayed on what Thomstatter calls “a wall of faces.” The pictures also will be displayed online. For information click HERE.
In this effort, every picture truly tells a story. But sometimes there were no pictures, as was the case of Spc. 4 Johnnie Grant, of Tampa, who was 22 when he was killed in 1966.
“We couldn’t find a picture of him; but we did get a pencil drawing,” Thomstatter said. “Now, he will be remembered.”
The final photograph of a Floridian to be located was Pfc. Thomas J. Burton, of Pompano Beach. He was 21 when he died Nov. 20, 1968, in Binh Duong Province.
“We couldn’t find any friends or family, and we searched hard,” Thomstatter said. “What matters is that we found him.”
Those helping in the search for the photographs included Villagers Beth Braun, John DeCoste and James Davies. They helped with genealogy research. Also contributing was Gary McDaniel, a private investigator from Fort Lauderdale; Cathy Haynes, of Orlando, and Paula Judd, from Pensacola.
All chapters of the VVA belonging to the Florida State Council also contributed.
“It was a lot of work,” Thomstatter said. “But it was worth it.”
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.