Iowa veteran attempting to put faces to the Vietnam Memorial Wall names

A visitor looks at the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.
CBS News

(CBS News) CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Every year, more than 3 million people visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Many others visit replicas that travel around the country.

All have the names of the more than 58,000 of Americans killed in the war -- but just the names.

That gave one Vietnam vet an idea.

Tom Brickman CBS News

Tom Brickman was an Army specialist in Vietnam who has spent most of the last 44 years trying to forget about it.

"I didn't want to talk about the war," he said. "I didn't want any memories of the war. I just wanted to put it deep in the past."

Last summer, Tom and his daughter Shari Kirkpatrick saw what's known "as the wall that heals" -- a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.

What he saw moved him, but he wanted to see more than names. He thought photographs would fill an emptiness he felt.

So now with Shari, Tom is on a mission to match a photograph to the 853 names on Iowans who fell in Vietnam.

"It's kind of a healing process... for myself, as well as the people, the families I have talked to. And I have talked to people who have told me about their experiences of what they went through with the death of their brother," he said.

The photos they've collected will be grouped with those others have gathered across the country and put on display in the education center to be built close to the memorial wall in Washington. The hope is to have 58,261 photos -- one for every name.

"A profile is nothing but statistics, but if we have a photo to go with it at least you can see a face to go with the profile... to know there's a person that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country," he said.

Brickman and his daughter have turned up lots of stories and memories since they began their project last summer. They are down to the last 122 photos now.

"When I always send out a letter or an email or whatever, my last sentence is, 'May the fallen soldiers never be forgotten.' And, to me, that's what this whole project is about," he said.

It's also because those who gave their lives were more than names on a wall.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.