Valley resident Sharon Johnston is leading the hunt for photos of every Arizona service member who died in the Vietnam War. She’s still searching for 24 faces from Arizona. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
She starts with a name.
Gerald Martin Lubbehusen.
This one is unusual, Sharon Johnston thinks, which should make the search easier. She has a date of birth, April 19, 1952, a date of death, May 24, 1971, and a hometown: Phoenix.
That is all she knows about him. Except for one more thing.
She knows Gerald Martin Lubbehusen was one of 618 young men from Arizona killed or reported missing in action in Vietnam. His name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., one of more than 58,000 casualties from the war.
Just his name is on the wall, on panel W3, line 53.
But there is an effort underway to build an education center near the wall that will display a photograph of each person, along with items left at the wall over the years.
Across the country, for years now, volunteers have been tracking down photos. They still need more than 6,500. In Arizona, there are 20 left to find.
Someday, the casualties of the Vietnam War won’t just be names on the wall. They will have faces, too.
They will be harder to forget that way.
HOW TO HELP: Scroll to the end of the story to find out how you can help the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s effort to find photos of every Vietnam veteran.
One clue leads to another
Sharon is a fourth-grade teacher at Westwind Elementary School in west Phoenix. She never meant to become a genealogy detective, spending her days online and in libraries and cemeteries, searching for people she never knew and never would. But that’s what she does. Now she’s part of a national manhunt.
Sharon starts online, searching newspaper archives, military and genealogy websites. Obituaries give her names of parents, siblings and sometimes other relatives. The notices might list schools or churches attended.
Sometimes she turns up this information quickly. Other times, she finds only bits and pieces at a time.
“The tiniest piece of information can lead you to the next piece of information,” Sharon said, a lesson she has learned along the way.
Eight years ago, Sharon decided to find out more about her family. She searched genealogy websites and made trips to the East Coast, tramping through cemeteries in search of family graves.
Itwas like figuring out a puzzle, the way some people do crosswords or Sudoku.
Sharon began to respond to requests for help on genealogy websites from people who had been adopted and wanted to find their biological parents, or to reunite estranged family members.
In March, she saw a request online for information on a young soldier from a tiny town in West Virginia. He had been killed in Vietnam in 1968. The town was creating a memorial for its fallen soldiers and could not find any information on this one.
She started with a name.
Reid Tyrone Styers.
She found his cousins and then a half-brother and began to piece together his story.
Reid was born on Jan. 13, 1944, to a young, single woman in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and raised by his grandparents.
His mom eventually married and had two more children, but she never came back for Reid. He dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army at 18.
No one Sharon contacted had a photo of Reid. She requested Reid’s service records from the Army.
The envelope took weeks to arrive. She opened it with shaking hands. She read through his record, just six pages.
Specialist 4 Styers was on Fire Support Base Maury, a small artillery outpost northwest of Trang Bang in Tay Ninh Province, on May 9, 1968, when it was pounded by mortar and then overrun by enemy soldiers.
Reid survived the attack but died later, on May 26, 1968, from his burns. He was 24.
His photo was on the last page.
Sharon cried when she saw it.
It was the face of a boy, not a man. Just a boy.
‘They should have their faces up there’
In April, Sharon made a trip to the wall and saw Reid’s name, panel 65W, row 1, and then to Baltimore National Cemetery, where he was buried. She left flowers.
She stopped again on her way to the airport, kissed her fingertips and pressed them to his grave marker. She stood to go and then stopped.
“I realized when I was standing at the end of his grave, that I was standing where his mother would have stood,” Sharon said. “That’s when it hit me.” She sobbed.
“When I see these kids, I see my son,” she said. He was never in the military, but she remembers when he turned 18 and registered for the Selective Service.
She sees her former students, some of whom joined the military.
Sharon doesn’t know any Vietnam veterans. Her dad and brother both served for a short time in the Marines, her grandfather in the Navy.
“But when you hear those stories about what happened over there, well, these kids should not be forgotten. They should have their faces up there,” she said.
“I think it’s the least we can do as a country.”
Finding a photo, finding a cause
Janna Hoehn feels the same way.
Eight years ago, she and her husband made their first trip to Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was the first monument Janna wanted to see.
She didn’t know anyone who had been killed in Vietnam, but it had been on the news every night when she was in high school.
She had two cousins who went to Vietnam. They came back, but while one was all right, the other was never really the same again.
Janna stood at the wall and cried. “It’s so massive. There are so many names,” she said. “There are just so many names.”
She chose one at random and made a rubbing, laying a piece of paper across the letters and going over it with a pencil.
When Janna got home, she tried to find the man’s family, in case they had never been to the monument. She could give them the rubbing.
She started with his name.
Gregory John Crossman.
Janna searched for his family for six months with no luck. She asked a cousin who was into genealogy for help. A few weeks later, her cousin turned up a photo from Gregory’s college yearbook.
Maj. Gregory J. Crossman graduated from Western Michigan University and then joined the Air Force. He became a pilot and was heavily decorated.
On April 25, 1968, Crossman and Col. Albert C. Mitchell left Ubon Airbase in Thailand on an F-4D to run a raid in North Vietnam. They dodged heavy anti-aircraft fire to knock out a Soviet fighter plane base along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
And then the aircraft disappeared.
Gregory was listed as missing in action. His body has never been recovered.
Janna made a scrapbook page with the rubbing and yearbook photo and then put it away.
Two years later, she saw a story on the news about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s The Wall of Faces project, an attempt to collect photos for every name on the monument.
She jumped up out of her chair, made a copy of the yearbook picture and mailed it in.
A week later, she received an email from Jan Scruggs, the Vietnam veteran who launched the effort to build the monument and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
He thanked her for the photo, the only one they had of Gregory. He asked if she would be willing to search for photos of the 42 other names on the wall from Maui County.
“It would be an honor,” Janna wrote back.
It took her six months to find them all. Then she found the rest of the photos needed for Hawaii. After that, she tracked down five from her hometown of Hemet, Calif.
Now Janna has collected more than 5,000 photos, completing 12 states and coming close on others. She spends 40 hours a week tracking down photos on top of her full-time job as a florist in Maui, Hawaii.
In all, about 10 volunteers across the country are doing this work. Sharon is one of them now, too. They could use help, Janna said.
A daughter of one Vietnam veteran burst into tears the first time Janna contacted her. The woman said it was the first time in 40 years anyone had mentioned her father’s name.
Other families told her of keeping funerals private at the time because of the discourse and protests.
“It wasn’t right and it never will be right,” Janna said. “I feel like we are finally honoring these men.”
The names on a gravestone
Gerald Lubbehusen was born in Phoenix. He went to Alhambra High School.
With that information, Sharon visited the school and asked the librarian to see the yearbooks for the years Gerald likely would have attended. High school yearbooks are a great source of photographs, especially since many enlisted soon after graduation.
The librarian helped Sharon look, but they didn’t find Gerald’s picture in any of them.
Sharon wasn’t deterred. She’s good at this.
She tracked down his obituary. She learned Gerald had five siblings, including an identical twin named John. Every piece of information can lead her to another.
She tapped Gerald’s name into FindAGrave.com and found he was buried not far from her school.
She doesn’t need to visit the graves, though sometimes she finds good information there. It might be a family plot, with relatives buried nearby. There may be a clue on the grave marker, maybe a hometown.
Because when men from small towns traveled to the nearest recruiting station in Phoenix or Tucson to enlist, often the larger city was recorded as their hometown, not Globe, say, or Benson.
But Sharon goes to the graves for another reason.
As she stands at the foot of each grave, she said, the person she’s looking for, even with as little as she might know about them at the time, becomes real.
“They become somebody to you. It’s not just a name on the wall. They aren’t a casualty of a battle,” she said.
“They were people before they left, with dreams and ambitions.”
Faceless no more
Sharon learned Jerry enlisted in the Army in March 1970.
Specialist 4th Class Lubbehusen was crew chief with the 92nd Assault Helicopter Company under the command of the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion, 17th Combat Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade.
He was the gunner on a UH-1 Huey helicopter on May 24, 1971, when it was hit by mortar on a supply run to Firebase 5 north of Pleiku, which was under attack.
Jerry was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart posthumously.
Sharon reached out to Jerry’s siblings on Facebook. The first to respond was Lisa Privitera, Jim’s wife. She’s a teacher at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside.
Sharon explained what she was doing and how she needed a picture of Gerald for the project.
Sometimes families are suspicious that someone would be asking about their loved one for something like this after so many years. Others are touched to be asked.
“You see, one thing I hear over and over is, ‘Thank you for remembering.’ Those words drive me,” Sharon said. “Most of these men’s parents are gone and the siblings are often too young to remember. For those who do remember, it was as if it just happened yesterday.”
Jerry’s sister-in-law wrote back to Sharon on Facebook, “Let me get one for you.” She sent it the next day.
Sharon looked at it, smiling, and then teared up. Gerald looked just as she had pictured him. Handsome, with wavy blond hair and a strong chin.
Sharon uploaded the picture to The Wall of Faces and then sat back.
“When you see it up there, it’s like, ‘There you go,’ ” she said. “You are faceless no more.”
No one called him Gerald
No one called his brother Gerald, Jim Lubbehusen said. Not even his mother. Not even when she was mad at him — and she was mad at him a lot.
Jerry was one of six children. He and his twin, John, were the oldest boys, behind two older sisters. After them came Jim and Joe.
Jim was 15 or so when Jerry joined the Army. Jim suspects his brother did it to get out of the house. He had dropped out of high school and earned a GED. Their parents had divorced by then. Jerry gave his girlfriend an engagement ring before he left.
Jerry was gone for a couple of years, long enough that he was given leave at Christmas. Jim remembers his brother came home in uniform, an impressive sight.
He brought presents for everyone, which was rare in a family where money was tight.
Jim was into boats, and Jerry gave him a wooden replica of a Chinese junk boat with canvas sails and string rigging.
Five months after the Christmas when Jerry came home on leave, when he gave Jim the model boat, Jim and Joe were in the living room when they saw through the window two Army officers in dress uniforms coming up the sidewalk.
Jim opened the front door. “Is your mother home?” one of the officers asked.
Jim said his stomach felt weird. “Oh no,” he thought. “This isn’t good.”
He found his mother and told her two officers were at the door. She burst into tears. She knew what their presence meant.
Jerry was listed as missing in action. Jim refused to believe his big brother could be dead.
“I kept believing, ‘No, my brother didn’t die. He’s out there fending for himself. He’ll survive,’ ” Jim said. He told himself that again and again.
It wasn’t long before the family received a letter confirming Jerry’s death.
Jim hadn’t wanted to believe it was true. “It was a shock when he didn’t come home,” he said.
After his brother died, Jim and a buddy got a can of black paint and made a stencil with the word “war.” They stenciled “war” under the word “stop” on stop signs all over the neighborhood.
They were painting one on 35th Avenue when a cop pulled up. Jim dropped the stencil, his buddy dropped the paint, but they didn’t run. “We were so busted,” Jim said.
The officer took the boys to the police station and held them until their mothers could pick them up.
The stop signs stayed like that for some time. Stop war.
But it was when Jim turned 19, the same age Jerry had been when he was killed, that his brother’s death really hit him. He realized, “This is all the further Jerry got in life.”
It didn’t seem fair.
Jim is 63 now, and the ending of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” makes him sob every time. He has the boat still, the one Jerry gave him that Christmas. It’s on the stereo in his home in Show Low. It needs dusting.
Jim has never seen his brother’s name on the wall. He went to Washington, D.C., once, in 1977, after he finished a three-year tour in the Air Force. The monument wasn’t built until 1982.
He’d like to see it, now that things are different.
People still thank him for his service. It wasn’t like that for Vietnam veterans.
“Those poor kids, the ones who did come back, people were spitting on them and treating them like crap,” he said.
He never understood it. “Why did you pick on these Vietnam kids? They didn’t make this happen. They didn’t want it to happen.
“It wasn’t their war.”
Jim was surprised when his wife told him about Sharon’s request for a photo. She was a stranger, after all.
“It’s been a long, long time, and I think all that stuff has been forgotten with most people,” Jim said.
Another name, another face
Jerry was buried with full military honors on July 13, 1971, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Avondale.
On a half day at school, Sharon makes the trip. She parks on the side of the road near the cemetery and gets out of her car with a single red rose tied with a red, white and blue ribbon in her hand.
She walks along a row of graves to his.
The marker reads, “GERALD M. LUBBEHUSEN,” all in capital letters. The next line says simply, ARIZONA.” Then, SP 4 93 AVIATION CO, VIETNAM PH.” “PH” stands for Purple Heart. “APRIL 19 1952-MAY 24 1971.”
It is peaceful here. She visits the graves of the young men she spends so much time searching for because with their parents gone, family scattered, and so many years gone by, sometimes she is the only one who does.
“Nineteen years old,” Sharon says. “Can you believe that?”
About 40,000 of the more than 58,000 names on the wall were under the age of 20.
“It just breaks your heart.”
Sharon picks up the blue and orange daisies, dry and brown now, that she left on her last visit. She lays the rose above Jerry’s name on the grave marker.
“It’s hard to let go,” she says.
Sharon was raised Catholic, but she doesn’t go to church anymore. Still, she says, “Sometimes there’s a sense they know you are here, even though all logic says no.”
“It is hard to leave,” she says.
Sharon kisses her fingers and presses it to the grave marker.
She has another name.
Reach Bland at [email protected] or 602-444-8614.
Do you know these Arizona veterans?
Volunteers are still searching for photographs and information for these Arizona veterans killed or missing in action in Vietnam. If you can help, email Sharon Johnston at [email protected].
James Daniel Aguilar, of Central Heights-Midland City, July 1, 1950-May 20, 1971
Robert Lee Andrews Jr., of Phoenix, Sept. 12, 1945-May 21, 1968
Larry Eugene Bailey, of Phoenix, March 15, 1950-March 24, 1969
Larry R. Billie, of Chinle, Sept. 13, 1943-Oct. 11, 1966
Tom Casey, of Phoenix, Nov. 16, 1947-Oct. 25, 1968
Gregory B. Chiago, of Phoenix, June 2, 1948-Nov. 22, 1968
Adolphus Christopher, of Tucson, December 21, 1927-July 15, 1969
Giacoma James Cintineo, of Phoenix, March 16, 1943-Dec. 25, 1966
Manuel S. Flores, of Phoenix, April 10, 1934-Feb. 16, 1967
Frederick H. Frazer, of Wickenburg, June 21, 1947-Nov. 27, 1968
James Merle Haskins, of Ehrenberg, Oct. 28, 1946-Sept. 19, 1967
Gary Lee Hogan, of Phoenix, May 30, 1948-Dec. 23, 1968
Bob Clarence Hunt Jr., of Tucson, March 2, 1942-Jan. 29, 1966
Michael B. Jones, of Mohave, June 12, 1947-May 12, 1968
Wilson Begay Kee, of Chinle, April 2, 1948-June 17, 1970
Bill Gregory Lee, of Tucson, July 19, 1948-March 20, 1969
Harold Joseph Marrietta, of Sacaton, April 20, 1933-Feb. 7, 1966
Jimmie Patten, of San Carlos, March 17, 1941-Jan. 31, 1968
Paul Maldonado Rodriguez Jr., of Tucson, Sept. 13, 1947-June 27, 1967
Lee Dino Tsosie, of Cross Canyon, Oct. 1, 1947-July 25, 1968
How to help The Wall of Faces
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is leading an effort to find photographs to go with each of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall in Washington, D.C. More than 6,500 still are needed, including 20 from Arizona.
To submit by mail, make a copy of your photo, preferably with a glossy finish and 8-by-10. Fill out a photo submission form and mail to:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
Attn: The Wall of Faces
1235 South Clark Street, Suite 910
Arlington, VA 22202
If you know anything about any veteran on the wall, from any state, Janna Hoehn would appreciate any information – schools attended, names of relatives – that could lead to a photograph. She also needs more volunteers. Contact her at [email protected].
For more information about the education center or to donate, click here.
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