The faces of those killed in battle are sometimes forgotten. That’s why The Wall of Faces, a virtual representation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was created. It displays photos online with information for each veteran listed on the physical wall in Washington.
But there’s not a photo provided with every name. So Barry Stinson, a Vietnam veteran who recently moved to Gainesville, set out to find photos for the seven from Gainesville who were killed during the war and didn’t have a photo on The Wall of Faces.
The Wall of Faces
The digital version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial lists 14 men from Gainesville killed in the war.
“All I knew was they were from Gainesville,” said Stinson, who served 13 months as a petty officer second class in the Navy. “So I started research like everybody else. I went to an online search engine, got the particulars I could get like the date of birth, date of death … and I just started digging.”
Since he began, he’s found photos for three veterans: Lufkin Scott Sharp, Claude Tillman Roper and Willard Winston Croy.
Stinson said it’s been an emotional journey searching for the men’s families and friends, some of whom he got to speak with.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Stinson said. “The Vietnam wall to me is an atonement for the way that we as Vietnam veterans were treated when we came home. We were treated pretty poorly. We were blamed. And people know now, even those who were protesters and gave grief to returning veterans, they know that was the wrong thing to do.”
Stinson found an obituary for Sharp’s widow in newspaper archives. He kept searching for information and found she had been a member of Gainesville First United Methodist Church, which happened to be the church Stinson attends. Someone at the church was then able to get Stinson in touch with Cathy Burns, Sharp’s daughter, who was 3 years old when her father, a captain in the Marines, died in 1968.
Burns said she was surprised to hear from Stinson because it had been such a long time since her father’s death. She didn’t know The Wall of Faces existed.
“I'm glad they’re out there,” Burns, who still lives in Gainesville said of the photos. “I’m sure there are some people that this is important to other than just me, so I am glad that everyone has the opportunity to look up, not just him, everybody on there. And I can show my children that this is who my daddy was.”
After speaking with Burns, Stinson said “the significance of the project really came home to me.”
Stinson never heard back from anyone who knew Roper, who was in the Army, but he was still able to find a yearbook photo from when Roper was a freshman at Gainesville High School.
Stinson found Croy’s widow, Mary Croy, who had numerous items that belonged to her husband, a sergeant in the Army, in a big box. Stinson scanned everything he was able to at the Blackshear Place library. There was a shadow box with medals and a letter of sympathy from President Richard Nixon dated 1970, the year Croy died.
Mary Croy said her husband graduated from East Hall High School, then went to Lanier Technical College. She said she didn’t know about The Wall of Faces either, so she’s excited to share it with the rest of her family.
“They were doing what they were told by their country,” Mary Croy said. “It wasn’t a popular war, and they didn’t let them use everything they had to fight the war, but so many people gave everything to go there and do what they thought was their part.”
The remaining four veterans have been harder to find, Stinson said. Carl Lee Thornton, Wilbur Florence Mattox, Johnny Bill Robertson Jr. and George Lamar Young are all African-American, so he said he’s trying to “harness the power of the pulpit.”
“Black churches and the black community are very cohesive,” Stinson said. “So I’ve found out one gentleman is buried in Mount Zion Baptist Church cemetery, so I emailed them and I got a response.”
Stinson is relying on others to provide the information, so he said he’s had to be patient
He’s confident he’ll find them all, though.
Stinson said he’s looking forward to late October when the current version of The Wall That Heals, a mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is retired. It will be sent to a permanent home at Newtown Park in Johns Creek, located just less than an hour south of Gainesville.
It will be similar to the wall in Washington, but smaller — only 8 feet tall and 375 feet in length — and will have a kiosk nearby where visitors can view The Wall of Faces that Stinson has helped complete.
“I just feel a responsibility to them because I’m also a Vietnam veteran,” Stinson said. “Just like we don’t leave men on the battlefield, we don’t leave their memories on the battlefield either.”
How to help
If you have information about Gainesville veterans on The Wall of Faces, contact JohnsCreekVets@gmail.com.