Mil­wau­kee War Me­mo­rial wants to put faces to ev­ery name on Honor Roll.

Project putting faces to names on Honor Roll

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Meg Jones

Wayne Thomas looked at the cam­era, a hint of a smile be­hind the cig­a­rette dan­gling from his mouth, ri­fle rest­ing on a leg as if just a sec­ond be­fore a fel­low Marine had yelled “Hey Wayne!” and clicked the shut­ter.

It was a mo­ment in the steam­ing jun­gles of Viet­nam some time be­fore June 17, 1969. Thomas sent a copy of the black and white photo to his buddy Gary Weck­worth back home in Mil­wau­kee.

Weck­worth taped the pic­ture of Thomas to his locker in Army boot camp. You can still see the piece of tape in the top right corner.

Weck­worth can’t re­mem­ber if he took Thomas’ photo with him to Viet­nam when he fol­lowed his friend to war. By then Thomas was dead, killed while crawl­ing through en­emy fire to bring am­mu­ni­tion to a Marine ma­chine gun team three days af­ter his 20th birth­day.

This June it will be half a cen­tury since Thomas died. Weck­worth hasn’t for­got­ten his friend.

“Oh, Wayne was a great guy,” Weck­worth said in a phone in­ter­view. “When we first met in sixth grade at Frat­ney Grade School, he was big­ger than we were. So we called him ‘Big Chu Chu Wayne.’”

Now, through an am­bi­tious project at the War Me­mo­rial Cen­ter in Mil­wau­kee, oth­ers will get to know Thomas and learn of his sac­ri­fice.

Launched at the start of this year, the project is at­tempt­ing to find pho­tos and bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion for each of the 3,481 names dat­ing back to World War II on the Honor Roll at the Mil­wau­kee War Me­mo­rial.

Weck­worth, 69, learned of the project in an email and sent in a photo of Thomas, who is the first name on the Mil­wau­kee County Honor Roll to be rec­og­nized with a pic­ture and bi­og­ra­phy.

The idea sprouted af­ter a trav­el­ing ex­hibit of the Viet­nam Wall of Faces came to the Mil­wau­kee War Me­mo­rial last year. A project to find pho­tos for ev­ery name etched on the Viet­nam War Me­mo­rial in Washington, D.C., was started sev­eral years ago to at­tach pic­tures to the fallen.

“We honor the Mil­wau­kee war dead by hav­ing their names here, but we can do so much more,” Kris­ten Scheuing, ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram man­ager at the War Me­mo­rial Cen­ter, said Sun­day af­ter­noon. “They all have sto­ries to be told.”

Ev­ery name on the honor roll is some­one who pulled on an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary uni­form, raised their right hand and swore to de­fend the United States. Ev­ery name is some­one who was loved, who was mourned.

Be­cause of the mas­sive project, Mil­wau­kee War Me­mo­rial of­fi­cials are try­ing to get the com­mu­nity in­volved, to crowd­source the ef­fort by ask­ing for help from schools, fam­i­lies and friends of peo­ple listed on the Honor Roll and any­one else who wants to find the sto­ries be­hind the ca­su­al­ties.

On Sun­day, Wis­con­sin Na­tional Guard Of­fi­cer Can­di­date School can-

di­dates spent the day at the War Me­mo­rial or­ga­niz­ing the names, copy­ing pages from a World War II-era scrap­book filled with crum­bling news­pa­per clip­pings and typ­ing in­for­ma­tion into a spread­sheet.

The scrap­book was thick.

“This is just Mil­wau­kee County. I would have thought it was for all of Wis­con­sin. There are so many,” said Sam Jol­lie, 26, of Madi­son.

“And so young,” added Ja­son Per­mann, 33, of La Crosse, as he stood be­fore a copy ma­chine care­fully plac­ing scrap­book pages on the glass.

The Na­tional Guard of­fi­cer can­di­dates found sto­ries of the deaths of a 22-year-old Army cap­tain and a 23year-old staff sergeant, very young for those ranks.

“It’s pretty sad, ac­tu­ally. I just saw a photo of a lit­tle girl getting her dad’s medals,” said Jol­lie, hold­ing up a pic­ture of a girl about 4 years old re­ceiv­ing her father’s Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross.

So far, two schools have vol­un­teered for the ef­fort, St. Mary School in Janesville and Marquette Univer­sity High School in Mil­wau­kee. Scheuing sent each school 15 names from the Honor Roll, five each from World War II, Korea and Viet­nam.

Jon Par­sons, a so­cial stud­ies teacher at Marquette High, is hav­ing ju­niors and se­niors in an elec­tive class on the his­tory of Amer­ica in the 1950s and ‘60s work on the Honor Roll project. The school li­brar­ian has started work­ing on re­sources to help stu­dents dig in to mil­i­tary records, obit­u­ar­ies and news­pa­per archives.

“This is a unique op­por­tu­nity for stu­dents to see a more per­sonal look at war­fare. Too of­ten his­tory is too ab­stract — it’s gen­er­als and bat­tles and dates,” said Par­sons.

“We’re go­ing to look at sol­diers that are com­pa­ra­ble in age for them. I think it will be a very pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence for them, some­thing unique that they wouldn’t nor­mally get in a his­tory class,” Par­sons said.

War Me­mo­rial of­fi­cials know there are dis­crep­an­cies and mis­spellings on the Honor Roll. The orig­i­nal cri­te­ria for in­clu­sion was World War II com­bat deaths from Mil­wau­kee County, but in the decades since, oth­ers who died in ac­ci­dents or ill­nesses have been in­cluded.

The list of names has been dig­i­tized for the War Me­mo­rial Cen­ter’s web page. There’s a link on the web page to sub­mit in­for­ma­tion and pho­tos. Even­tu­ally, the plan is to build a sep­a­rate web­site for pic­tures and bi­ogra­phies of ev­ery­one on the Mil­wau­kee County Honor Roll.

“I know there are peo­ple who en­joy that type of sleuthing,” said Scheuing. “I know there are ge­neal­ogy buffs who are good at find­ing con­nec­tions.”

For more in­for­ma­tion or to par­tic­i­pate in the project to find pho­tos and bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion for ev­ery name on the Mil­wau­kee County War Me­mo­rial Cen­ter’s Honor Roll — warmemo­ri­al­cen­


Gary Weck­worth is sur­rounded by pho­tos and let­ters in his Glendale home from his child­hood friend Wayne R. Thomas, who was killed in Viet­nam three days af­ter his 20th birth­day in 1969.


A photo of Wayne R. Thomas is from 1969 while Thomas was on duty in Viet­nam.


A let­ter from Wayne R. Thomas in­cluded a hu­mor­ous P.S. that reads "Join the Marines for 2 years you'll never re­gret it. Af­ter it's over of course."

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