By Susan Johnson
The Vietnam Veteran’s Honor Society is planning some special ceremonies for Memorial Day. The public is invited to the unveiling of a tribute to Vietnam soldiers who never made it back home. “Faces of Heroes: Soldiers of History” is the theme of a display of pictures of the fallen warriors. Ceremonies start at 10:30 a.m., Monday, May 26, at the Vietnam Veterans L Z Peace Memorial (just outside Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford).
These are soldiers who are already listed on the memorial wall in Washington, D.C., but previously had no pictures to go with the names. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has worked for a year finding pictures of the veterans on the wall.
Nick Parnello, president of the Vietnam Veteran’s Honor Society, said: “It’s a whole different world when you see a name and a face. I think the veterans of Winnebago County will be touched by seeing all these young men who never got to enjoy the freedom they fought for.”
Another ceremony involves a special U.S. flag. “The commemorative flag ceremony will be for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1964,” said Parnello. “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent this special flag to the veterans’ organizations to honor that anniversary. It’s like a way to say ‘thank you’ to the vets from that era. It’s just gorgeous. We are going to have that flag raised on that day on one of the poles. We’ve also had a Purple Heart made of stone. That’s something that, unfortunately, a lot of vets received. My cousin, Jim Maragi, spent a lot of hours cutting the stone. It’s probably 5 to 6 feet across and probably 6 feet long. It’s cut to resemble a Purple Heart. It will be the head piece of the memorial.”
He gave credit to “two ladies from the DAR” — Nancy Bloomstrand and Inis Bloomster and her husband, “Buzz,” who did the heavy lifting for the display of pictures. Inis Bloomster also told us about the amount of research that made this display possible.
“The whole thing started when President Obama issued a decree in May 2012 that from that time until Nov. 11, 2025, would be a commemorative time for honoring the 50 years of the Vietnam War,” she explained.
The DARs were asked by the Department of Defense to partner with the Vietnam veterans’ associations … to try to find pictures of all the men who died in Vietnam. There were over 58,000 [who] perished in the war. Their names are all engraved on the wall in Washington, D.C., on the Internet, and also on a kiosk there, you can pull up the name of the soldier you’re looking for, and it tells you where on the wall it’s located. It tells where they died, what their rank was, and area of service. [But] they didn’t have a picture.
“They [DAR] decided that they would start getting pictures. Every year, DAR has a Continental Congress in Washington, D.C. … We go there every year… They make policies and resolutions and have awards and things like that… They asked all the regents who attended [last year] to come back to their chapters and try to find these pictures. Several people in Winnebago County thought we could cover the whole county.
“Our regent, Nancy Bloomstrand, came back and said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to find these pictures.’” Inis Bloomster volunteered and was selected for the job. She went to the Rockford Public Library, which has yearbooks of all the Rockford Public Schools. She also researched yearbooks for Harlem at the library in Loves Park, and Hononegah graduates at the Talcott Library in Rockton. She didn’t realize that Winnebago had a yearbook at that time, but she did check out Pecatonica. So far, she has located all but 14 names. Eventually, she believes, the others will be found, and then they can be added to the display. She is keeping a notebook for photo records.
At the event, she says: “I’m going to sing. I wrote an original song for the occasion, ‘Faces From the Wall.’ It explains basically what this whole thing was. We didn’t realize the magnitude of this until we did it. I had a few pictures, I had my annual when I graduated from Harlem, and I put them on a collage. For Veterans Day, the DAR always has a Veterans Day observance, and so at that time, I put my little display up and the names of the people we needed pictures for. And some people contributed and found more to add. So I had some from the public already that had some. Each time we did an event for the public, we would get more.”
A TV announcer from Channel 17 came to interview Nancy Bloomstrand, and he asked about pictures. “That’s what the song is about,” said Bloomster. “The faces and names. These fellows went over there and fought for democracy. We also need to thank the veterans for their service and their sacrifice. That’s what the song is about.”
From the May 21-27, 2014, issue