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Thomas Brickman was drafted into the United States Army in May of 1967. He was deployed to Vietnam in September of that year.
Brickman returned to the states a year later, but he hasn't forgotten the soldiers who didn't come home. Now, his daughter is working to make sure others remember, too.
Shari Kirkpatrick is collecting photographs of all of the Iowans named on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her efforts support The National Call for Photos, a campaign to collect a photograph for each of the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are inscribed on the memorial.
Kirkpatrick's involvement in the photo project started Father's Day Weekend with a visit to The Wall That Heals. The traveling exhibit is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"Shari had called me and said that the traveling wall was in Washington, Iowa, and asked if (my wife) Charlotte and I would like to go see it," Brickman says.
Kirkpatrick's 13-year-old son, Jaden McGhee, also made the trip. Kirkpatrick asked her parents to go so her son could learn more about his grandfather's experience in Vietnam.
In Washington, the family met Bob Dobeck, site manager for The Wall That Heals. Dobeck showed Brickman how to use the computer database to locate the names of soldiers on the wall.
Each profile in the database lists the soldier's name, birth date, casualty date, hometown, county and state, military branch and rank, and where to locate a soldier's name on the wall. Some of the profiles have photos, many do not. Asking about the lack of photographs, Dobeck told them about The National Call for Photos campaign.
All collected photographs appear online on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund's Virtual Memorial Wall. They also will be displayed in the future Education Center at The Wall, a multi-million dollar, state-of- the-art visitor's center and learning facility to be built on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln Memorials.
The campaign launched in the fall of 2009. Nearly three years later, only 356 photos of the 853 Iowans listed on The Wall had been collected.
Brickman offered to help by locating the photographs of soldiers in Bremer and Black Hawk counties. Kirkpatrick volunteered to locate photographs of soldiers from Grundy County. A listing of soldiers from Tama County was printed for Brickman's other daughter, Jennifer Peters.
During the car ride home, though, Kirkpatrick changed her mind.
"Shari said ‘Dad, we can't just do our counties. Let's do the whole state,'" Brickman says. "That's how we got started."
"It didn't seem right to say ‘Oh, we can't help you because you're not from our county,'" Kirkpatrick adds.
Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website, Kirkpatrick e-mailed everyone with connections to Iowa soldiers, explaining The National Call for Photos project.
"People have been really, really good about e-mailing back," she says. "If they don't have a picture, they try to give us some information –- a sibling's name or the name of the town where the family now lives –- to help us locate someone who may have a photo."
An oversized black binder helps Kirkpatrick keep track of soldiers without photographs. Each sheet contains the same information listed in the database, but also Kirkpatrick's notes about who she's contacted in her effort to locate a photograph.
Kirkpatrick is using social media to assist her in this project. Her "Faces To Go With Names: Iowa's Fallen Vietnam Soldiers" Facebook page tracks her efforts with a continuously updated list of names still needing pictures, as well as sharing the photos she has collected.
Charlotte Brickman, Kirkpatrick's mother, goes through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website weekly to see if new photographs have been posted, alerting Brickman if she can remove a name from her list.
In less than six weeks, photographs of 100 Iowa soldiers were added to the database. Some of these are photos Kirkpatrick managed to locate, others were photos submitted directly to the website by soldiers' friends and family.
"It's very rewarding," Kirkpatrick says. "The stories that people e-mail me are so touching."
One man thanked Kirkpatrick for not letting people forget his friend. A woman told Kirkpatrick she read her e-mail on the 43rd anniversary of her father's death in Vietnam. She found comfort knowing she wasn't the only person thinking about her dad.
A fellow veteran e-mailed Kirkpatrick to say he couldn't help, writing that he tries to block out everything from the Vietnam War. Kirkpatrick apologized for bringing up his memories. She didn't expect to hear from him again, but he later contacted her to say the time had come for him to deal with it.
"He says he's looking through his things and he'll contact me if he finds anything that will help," Kirkpatrick says.
Brickman hopes locating the photographs will bring that sense of closure to more loved ones.
"It shows that these soldiers have not been forgotten," he says. "They paid the ultimate sacrifice. We won't forget."
The National Call for Photos
If you have a picture of a loved one or fellow veteran whose name is on The Wall, you can help the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund honor these individuals by putting a face with their name. Photos can be submitted several ways:
E-mail Shari Kirkpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also be reached through her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FacesToGoWithNamesIowasFallenVietnamSoldiers. Photos submitted to Kirkpatrick will be posted on multiple Vietnam Veteran websites, including Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and virtualwall.org.
You can also submit photos directly to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Digital photographs can by uploaded at http://vvmf.org/submit_other. Copies of photos – do not send originals – can be mailed to:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
Attn: Call for Photos
2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 104
Washington, D.C. 20037
Be sure to include the photo submission form and please indicate on the front of the envelope that a photo is enclosed.