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2 more photos needed for planned Vietnam memorial

February 11, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A project seeking to find photographs of the 988 Oklahomans who died in the Vietnam War has located images for all but two — one a soldier, the other a Marine.

Army Pfc. Jesse Willard Dowling, a Lawton native, was killed June 3, 1968, in central South Vietnam by an enemy grenade.

Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Douglas Chistiansen, from Oklahoma City, died in action in Feb. 21, 1969, in a mortar attack about 20 miles south of the North Vietnamese border

The photographs are posted on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund page and plans eventually call for the photos of every service member killed in Vietnam to be displayed at a planned $130 million education center at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Locating the last images in any state is always challenging, said Janna Hoehn, a Hawaii-based volunteer who’s helped whittle the list of missing Oklahoma photographs.

Siblings get married and their last name changes. Parents move, or die. Records are lost.

“We have done the obvious, tried to find parents, who are usually deceased,” Hoehn told The Oklahoman . “Often there are no yearbooks for the high school they may have attended or their photo wasn’t in them.”

Christiansen, a California native who moved to Oklahoma City a year before joining the Marines, died during operation Dewey Canyon in Quang Tri Province, the last major Marine offensive of the war, according to military records.

Accounts in The Oklahoman at the time noted that February 1969 proved particularly brutal for Oklahomans in the war, with 24 killed in action including 18 in an eight-day span. By the time Christiansen died in early 1969, more than 700 Oklahomans had already lost their lives in the war.

Christensen is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in northern California.

Outside of that, not much is known about him. Hoehn managed to track down a sister-in-law, but the trail for his photo has gone cold.

The issue highlights one of the project’s biggest complications. Christiansen may have lived in Oklahoma for a time, he may have enlisted here, but his ties to Oklahoma seem tenuous at best.

“The home of record is where they enlisted, but it doesn’t always mean that they lived in that town,” Hoehn said.

Dowling died near the city of Dinh Tuong in South Vietnam. He was barely 18 when he was killed.

Buried at Highland Cemetery in Lawton, Dowling may have lived in Oklahoma City for a time, attending Douglass High School, but Hoehn hasn’t been able to find a record of that.

All of Dowling’s siblings are dead, save one sister who is in a nursing home.

In the hunt for photos, things can change quickly, Hoehn said.

Just earlier this month, she was still searching for three Oklahoma photos, until a located sibling filled in another missing image.

Hoehn has personally collected more than 6,000 photos for the project. Nationwide, the Wall of Faces effort is complete in 23 states. Texas is down to just one missing photo, after more than 2 years spent collecting 1,158. Missouri lacks just 16.

On the Wall of Faces website, each of the dead has their own page that includes their picture, hometown, where and when they died and their branch of service. Some people leave messages. Most are from strangers thanking them for their service. But others offer a window into the pain and loss of those left behind still fresh after all these years.

“To my big brother: Still have the teddy bear you won at the county fair before I was born! Miss you! Will see you again someday,” a woman wrote on Tulsa native Army Spc. Jerry Beckham’s page.

“We were so young when we baled hay and rode my go-cart through Post Oak Cemetery,” a childhood friend wrote on Army Sgt. Randall Phillips’ page. “I can still see your smile. I went too. I hope you were with friends who held and comforted you in the final moments as I did for others.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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