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Faces To Go With Names

JANESVILLE, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - We have all heard the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" and one eastern Iowa man is taking that saying to heart in an effort to make sure his fallen comrades are never forgotten.

Janesville native, Tom Brickman, wasn't surprised when he received his draft notice in 1967. But the 19-year-old was scared and anxious. The Vietnam War was just ramping up and he would be leaving his wife just months after getting married. Tom arrived in Vietnam in September of 1967. He was an Army Specialist attached to the 196 Light Infantry Brigade. Even though he only spent a year in Vietnam, he has spent much of the last 45 years trying to forget it.

"You know for years, I always put the war in the back of my mind. A lot of people didn't even know I served. I mean we never talked about it," commented Brickman.

But that all changed two years ago when Tom and his family visited "The Wall That Heal," a traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. Tom was moved by what he saw that day, but he felt there needed to be more than just the names on a wall.

"If you can have a statistic or a profile of a soldier, but having a photo is so much more. It completes it," Tom shared.

So Tom, with the help of his daughter Shari, set out to collect photos for all of the 853 Iowans killed in the Vietnam War. At first, they thought they would never see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now almost two years later, they are almost complete with their mission. Through hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls Tom and his daughter have been able to find photos for all but four of the fallen Iowa Vietnam soldiers. Besides finding the photos, Tom and his daughter have also turned up a lot of stories and memories since beginning the project.

"My daughter had sent an email to a woman in Sioux City, Iowa. And when she opened the email, it was 43 years to the day that the army came knocking at the door to tell her mother that her father was killed. And my daughter wrote 'that's terrible timing' and the woman said 'oh no, it's perfect timing. I know that after all these years that my father hasn't been forgotten," Tom shared.

The photos Tom has collected will be sent to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund. The photos will be displayed on their website as part of their "Faces for the Names" campaign. The campaign is to find photos for all 58,272 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  The photos will also be used in the new Vietnam Education Center which is currently being built in Washington DC, near the Vietnam Wall.

The photos will also be used locally at the Sullivan brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.  The museum plans to use Tom's photos in an interactive display as part of their permanent Vietnam War exhibit. Visitors to the museum will be able to search for a veteran by name, hometown, and by service. They will then be able to click on the veteran's photo to read more about that individual and their role in the war.

"So what we wanted to do is to recognize these men and women who died and to tell something about who they are.  Show each individual who was killed in Vietnam and show the photograph and tell a little about them, a little bit of information of where they're from, maybe who they were, what they did, and what they were doing," added Grout Museum Historian Robert Neymeyer.

Which is really why Tom wanted to start this project in the first place and it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Because those who gave their lives, were so much more than just names on a wall.  But Tom also got something back from the project, the chance to heal after all these years.

"It's helped me kind of open up and talk about some of the experiences I went through in the war. So it's been a pretty awesome experience," says Tom.

Below are the last four soldiers Tom is looking for. If you have any information about these soldiers, please contact Tom at

1) James Black Cook,   1LT Army,   Bettendorf, Iowa,   2/9/1946-8/3/1968

2) John Edward Manson,   PFC Army,   Des Moines, Iowa,   5/28/1946-5/3/1968 (May have spent time in Gary, Indiana and is also buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Gary, Indiana)

3) David Leroy McCombs,    SSGT Army,   Oskaloosa,Iowa,    5/5/1943-10/11/1969

4) Frank George Smith,   PFC Marine Corps,   Des Moines, Iowa,   4/16/1950-7/30/1969

If you would like to learn more about Tom's project or contact him about starting a similar project in your state, you can visit his Facebook page: Face To Go With Names: Iowa Vietnam Fallen Soldiers.

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