For the people who were there, who either served overseas or experienced the tumult stateside, it probably still seems like yesterday. But just like World War II, and World War I before it, the Vietnam War will someday soon fade into history.

Among the many reasons not to forget the war is to honor the memory of those who died in service to their country.

That was the reason behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The subject of great criticism at the time of its conception, the Vietnam Wall is now recognized as the powerful and poignant memorial that it is. Millions of visitors go there every year to take in the wall and pay their respects, and perhaps rub a name onto a piece of paper, or leave a memento in front of a loved one’s section.

There are more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, each representing an American killed or missing in action during the Vietnam War. But as moving a memorial as those names make when laid together on black granite, they don’t tell the whole story.

The people represented by the Vietnam Wall were not just names on stone, of course, but flesh-and-blood humans with plans and dreams that went far past dying in a jungle. They were sons, brothers, husbands and uncles whose deaths left an unfillable hole. Their loved ones no doubt still feel that hole today, like a piece of their own selves went missing decades ago, and never came back.

Into that void comes the virtual Wall of Faces. Created by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the Wall of Faces project has for nearly 20 years attempted to collect a photo to match each one of the names on the Wall in D.C. The project picked up speed about three years ago, when there were still more than 18,000 photos left to collect, and today it is near completion.

Thanks to service organizations throughout the state, just one photo is missing from the 341 Mainers on the wall, according to Adria Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, when just two years ago 243 were needed.

Those photos can be viewed and searched at the Wall of Faces website, vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces. The site provides visitors with information on each person – their name, date of birth, hometown, rank, and date and place where they fell. Visitors can donate in the person’s honor, or leave a note of remembrance. They can even request a name rubbing of that person’s listing on the physical wall.

The photos and accompanying information will be used as part of an education center that is planned for the area near the Vietnam Memorial. The $130 million center will tell the complicated history of the Vietnam Memorial itself, and present firsthand accounts of the war from the people who fought it.

And there will be a two-story, 50-foot-wide display in the center projecting the Wall of Faces, making certain that future generations of Americans realize the full scope of the sacrifice made in their name.

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