Photos of soldiers who died in Vietnam War now on display at Guilderland library

— Photo from Sue Britton

Sue Britton, a long-time member of her local American Legion Auxiliary unit in Rensselaerville, stands with a display of armed forces members who were killed in the Vietnam War; she had searched for their photos over a period of months.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The faces of local soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors who died in Vietnam have been assembled in hard-to-find pictures, and are now on display at the Guilderland Public Library.

Sue Britton, 64, of Rensselaerville, has located all 16 missing photos of Albany County Vietnam servicemen who were killed in action. The faces of these men will be part of a display at the Guilderland Public Library for the month of September.

The display, called “Finding the New York Faces” will include a poster incorporating these men’s photos, as well as medals from the Vietnam War, Vietnamese currency, and a map of battles fought in the war.

Britton has been a member of the Clark White Unit 589 of the American Legion Auxiliary for the past 45 years. She joined the unit in 1973 after her husband, Donald Britton, a Vietnam Navy veteran, joined the legion unit.

Britton moved up through the ranks, eventually becoming the New York State Department president of the auxiliary from 2008-09. She later served on national conferences, and has now decided to turn her attention to local projects.

Britton had traveled to an American Legion conference this February in Washington, D.C., and learned that, of the 58,300 names on the Vietnam Veterans memorial, 8,000 lacked photos on the memorial’s companion website “The Wall of Faces,” at www.vmf.org/wall-of-faces.

“They obviously certainly deserve that recognition,” said Britton.

In March, she set out to find the photos of these service members, first locally, and then throughout Albany County. About a month ago, she found the final photo county, and has since expanded her search statewide. Her search began with almost 1,200 photographs missing from the website, there are now 925 left in the state.

“It is kind of like, you know, private investigative work,” she said, of her search.

Her efforts have involved calling those with the same last name as the dead soldier who she finds in the phone book, as well as getting out the word at Legion Auxiliary meetings.

“Just by word of mouth, it really started to spread,” Britton noted.

Her efforts paid off, and she found about three pictures in a matter of weeks.

The difficulty in finding these young men’s images is in part because many were unmarried and have no direct descendants, and many of their parents are now dead. Britton often ends up reaching out to siblings or nieces and nephews of these veterans.

Deceased soldier John Vennard’s living relatives were two sisters, who Britton accompanied on a visit to the man’s grave in Colonie.

“They were so pleased … ,” Britton said, of the sisters.“They were just overwhelmed with pride.”

Outside of Albany County, Britton has discovered photos in Greene, Rensselaer, Ulster, and Columbia counties. She has also gotten help from a member of the New York Fire Department. New York County, or the island of Manhattan, may be her biggest hurdle, Britton said, as it was the home of about half of the service members who are missing photos in the state.

Britton has also contacted the National Commander of the American Legion, Denise Rohan, to ask her to urge other states’ departments to make similar efforts to find photos.

“We just want to get the word out to as many people as possible,” Britton noted.

 

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