Pictured: Pvt. Willie Bedford, who became the last photo found to complete Wisconsin's effort to put a face to their fallen. Submitted by Rachel Maidl.
The state of Wisconsin has completed its effort to find every photo for the 1,161 fallen from their state. Over Memorial Day Weekend, Pvt. Willie Bedford of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became the final photo collected. This is part of VVMF's Faces Never Forgotten campaign, an effort to put a face to every name inscribed on The Wall in Washington, D.C.
VVMF is proud to have partnered with many companies who, since 2012, have been vital to the success of Wisconsin's photo collection effort. Partners include: Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Milwaukee Public Radio and Milwaukee Public Television. Major exposure from their outlets have included: three years of statewide broadcast promotions, volunteer trainings, media releases, a project volunteer coordinator and additional PR to the effort.
With the addition of the photo of Pvt. Willie Bedford, VVMF has now collected more than 41,100 photos. The goal is to put a face to the 58,307 Vietnam fallen.
Bedford's photo was submitted by student journalist Rachel Maidl. Maidl, with "her instructor, Jessica McBride, brought a photo...from a North Division High School yearbook to three of Bedford’s siblings—Carol Shaw and Robert and Eddie Claybrooks of Milwaukee—and messaged it to a fourth—Charles Bedford, in Tulsa, Oklahoma." They all confirmed it was him.
The Wisconsin veteran had drowned in May of 1970, at the age of 19.
In a shocking revelation, Bedford's photo was almost overlooked because of a typo in his high school yearbook. The photo found was labeled “B. Bedford,” even though Willie never went by a name starting with B that his family can remember.
However, with persistent detective work and dedication, individuals across the country are helping put faces to their fallen heroes. “In terms of the response over a certain period of time, the Wisconsin effort has been by far the most efficient and the most successful,” said George DeCastro, the Faces Never Forgotten Coordinator at VVMF.
Wisconsin now joins New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota in accomplishing this amazing feat.
"Their coordination is inspiring and "gives a great template for future efforts in other states," DeCastro continues.
On his Virtual Wall of Faces page, Bedford's sister-in-law writes, "We never met, I like to thank you for you sacrificing your life for your country and me. God have you in his arm, when I get to heaven where you are then I have my arms around you."
These are the kinds of stories that VVMF is trying to collect for each of the 58,307 names on The Wall so VVMF can keep the legacies of these service members alive for future generations. All photos collected will be featured in VVMF’s Virtual Wall of Faces and in the future Education Center at The Wall.
Read more about the the collection of Wisconsin's final photo, and watch the touching reaction from Bedford's sister here.