Volunteer seeks photo of Grayling soldier killed in Vietnam War who had ties to the community
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Hawaii resident is continuing on her mission to put a face with a name for the thousands of soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War.
In 2008, Janna Hoehn made her first trip to Washington D.C. to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It was the first war memorial she wanted to visit since the war took place while she was a high school student.
“Even though I never knew anyone killed in Vietnam, I wanted a rubbing of one of the names,” Hoehn said.
She approached the wall, and found the name of Gregory John Crossman, a soldier who is listed as Missing in Action. Crossman was from Sturgis, Michigan.
After returning home, Hoehn decided to research Crossman and try to find his family. In the event they were never able to go to the Wall, she wanted to send them the etching, hoping they would share a photo with her of Gregory.
Six years later, a member of Hoehn’s family came across a yearbook photo of Crossman.
Afterwards, she saw a television show about “Faces Never Forgotten” for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The goal was to put a face with every name that is etched on the Wall.
Hoehn submitted the photo of Crossman. Less than a week later, she was contacted by Jan Scruggs, the founder and president of the Vietnam Wall. He thanked her for sending the photo, as it was the first for this hero, and asked her if she could help him find the photos for the 42 Maui County fallen that were killed in Vietnam.
Hoehn replied that taking on the task would be her honor.
“I have always hoped I could to do something for the Vietnam veterans as the way they were treated when they returned, it was disgraceful,” she said. “Here was my chance.”
Hoehn started combing phone books, calling every like name of each soldier. She then researched archived yearbooks and newspaper obituaries.
Finally, the Maui News printed a front page article about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Education Center. She started receiving calls from people all over the United States, who sent her photos.
The newspaper ran a series of follow up stories. After six months, Hoehn collected photos for all of the local veterans who died in Vietnam.
“I had a display made with all 42 photos,” she said. “I take it all over Maui, giving presentations to high schools, libraries and civic groups. It has been very well received.”
Next, Hoehn started on a project to find photos of all the Vietnam veterans killed from her hometown Hemet, California. She expanded her search to find photos of every Native American from California who was killed in the war.
Since then, she has collected photos of veterans from 22 states, and recently started trying to find photos of fallen Vietnam soldiers from Michigan.
She has collected over 6,000 photos since 2011.
All of the photos are submitted to the Wall of Faces online memorial with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website, as well as accompanying the moving wall that travels all over the U.S.
“Putting a face with a name changes the whole dynamic of the Wall,” Hoehn said. “It keeps our fallen heroes’ memories alive and will honor them. Our heroes’ stories and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Five residents from Crawford County paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. They include James Evart Blaauw, Carl Whilem Borchers, Robert Lawrence Fairbotham, Michael James Hatfield, and James Erwin Russ.
Hoehn has gathered the photos of all Crawford County’s soldiers who died in the war except one for Russ.
Little is known about him. He was born on Oct. 7, 1947. His home of record is listed as Grayling.
Russ served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He started his tour on July 29, 1969. He was wounded in an incident, which occurred on May 15, 1970.
According to military records, SP4 James E. Russ was an artilleryman serving with Howitzer Battery, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Division. At approximately 2:30 a.m. on May 15, 1970, during an incursion into Cambodia with his unit, SP4 Russ was in a night defensive position, which was subjected to an enemy mortar attack. Russ was critically injured after suffering multiple fragmentation wounds to the chest, abdomen, spine and right arm, resulting in serious internal injuries. He was medivacked to the 45th Surgical Hospital at 3:30 a.m., his condition worsening later that day. On May 18 he was transferred to the 24th Evacuation Hospital, where he died due to renal failure and septicemia – blood poisoning. His casualty date is listed as May 23, 1970. Russ was 22.
Russ was laid to rest in the Maple Hill Cemetery Cadillac. His parents, Ruth M. Turk, who died in 2018, and Erwin Lamar Russ, who died in 2003, are also buried in the cemetery.
Hoehn is seeking to obtain a photo of Russ, other Michigan veterans who died in Vietnam, and photos from those who paid the ultimate sacrifice from other states. The photos can be submitted to the links listed below.
Hoehn, and other volunteers, are seeking to obtain a photo of every single fallen hero whose names are etched on the Wall, all 58,315 of them. To date, volunteers have collected over 53,000 photos.
“I do not wish for anyone to feel badly that their loved one or friend is not listed or forgotten,” Hoehn said. “We will never forget any of them.”
Submit any photos or information to Hoehn at email@example.com.
For more information about the Wall of Faces go to www.vvmf.org/thewall.