LAHAINA - Some 50 years ago, 42 members of the armed forces from Maui lost their lives in the jungles of Vietnam.
Walter L. Rickard, whose wife still lives in Lahaina, was just 19, the father of a young child. Lahaina's Magno Campos was 32 and a career military man. He died as part of an ambush that took 48 lives. Kenneth Kaaihue, 29, attended Lahainaluna High School and was learning to be a carpenter
Until now, these Maui heroes, along with more than 58,000 fallen comrades, never got the recognition they deserved.
Janna Hoehn with the 16-foot display depicting “my soldiers” that she brings to speaking engagements.
Janna Hoehn - another of the remarkable people of Maui who grew up elsewhere but now lives here - is among scores of people around the country embarked on a massive project to find photographs of every Vietnam War solider killed in combat. Hoehn's mission is finding photos of the Maui soldiers.
The photos will be posted on a virtual Internet wall and eventually placed in a new museum in Washington, D.C.
Janna, at 18, didn't go to war, but even at an early age, she was upset that there were no parades for Vietnam's returning vets, who were often openly disdained for their willingness to fight the unpopular war. Even then, Janna said, "I knew it was not right. It bothered me then; it bothers me now."
Life went on for the Hemet, California, native until a visit to Washington, D.C., where her first stop was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She remembers "the massiveness" of the black marble wall and her reflection in the etched names of the fallen.
"I didn't know any of them and stood there and cried. I wanted to get an etching; that is what everybody does. Most of the soldiers had black diamonds alongside their names. Some had four dots, meaning missing in action. I chose an MIA," she said.
"When we returned home, I wanted to research his family and send them the etching. I searched for months and could not find anyone."
Janna called a cousin who was good at research. Six weeks later, she was e-mailed "a beautiful photo of Gregory John Crossman. He was 26, a college student. His plane was shot down, and he and his pilot were never found." Tears filled Janna's eyes as she added it to a scrapbook.
Soon, this persistent, inspiring lady was on a quest. She learned the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund wanted to find photos of every single "Nam" soldier who gave their life for their country.
Off went Janna to find a photograph of every Maui veteran who perished in Vietnam. "I really felt I was destined," she said. "What I have accomplished - this was totally a calling for me."
Almost every day, after tending to her wedding flower business, she was on the phone, sometimes calling from the phone book as many as 20 people to find wives, sisters, brothers, nieces or nephews who could provide a photo.
Hoehn visited the library to check old obituaries in The Maui News and high schools to search through yearbooks. She went on the Internet. In less than a year, ending Oct. 6, 201l, she found photos of all 42.
Janna and her cousin located Rickard when the family name came up on the Internet in an obituary of someone unrelated to the solder. A found photo of Campos was shipped off to McMinnville, Oregon, to a son who had lost his dad as a toddler. Family members were "ecstatic" to get it.
"Voices of Maui" recently played a small role, too. On April 5, Laura Storch Tollefson of Molokai saw my daily photo blog post about Janna's talk at our Rotary Club and added a comment. Janna responded. Twelve back-and-forth comments were made on the blog, bringing new information that Janna could add to the file she keeps on each of "my soldiers."
Tollefson wrote of her dad: "Oh Janna, I was four years and 9 months and my brother was three years and four months. My mom had just turned 23. I do remember that the Army had a man come to our house with my grandparents and told us that he had died. I always thought he was going to come home and would always ask when he was coming back." (Go to voicesofmaui.wordpress.com and see a reposting of the entire poignant dialogue.)
Janna found more about Catalino Antonio, 21, when she brought her photo wall to a Maui Veterans Day Luau. A man came up and said, "That's my brother." This led to correspondence with the veteran's sister, who wrote: At 6-4, "the buggah was tall." Antonio had enlisted in the Air Force after graduation from Baldwin High School.
Forty-two names, each with a story. Janna's new mission: raising $1,000 for each of the 42, so they can join 30,000 more photographs that have already been collected, with contributions going to build the new museum.
Janna on Maui has $38,000 to go. (Contributions can be sent to Paul Laub, Maui County Veterans Council, 1003 Front St., Lahaina, HI 96761.)
The final words belong to Janna: "Throughout this project, I have hoped that I have given them the honor they deserve. They are a part of my life and will be forever. I will never forget them for their bravery, sacrifice and service to our country. I will also never forget all the men who made it home, hoping they know that I honor them for their bravery and service as well. Bless you one and all Much aloha, Janna Hoehn."
Columnist's Notebook: Beginning for the next seven days, more stories of the Maui heroes will be posted on my blog at voicesofmaui.wordpress.com, available through the Lahaina News' website. In response to readers, this column is now multidimensional, alternating between tales of Maui people and a "Beyond the Beach" version some are calling a gossip column (but I won't).