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Virtual Wall Honors Vietnam Vets With Photos, Bios, Letters and More

Captain Richard Conroy Halpin
Captain Richard Conroy Halpin

As much as some people wish it would just wash away with the tides of history, the Vietnam War has never left the American consciousness. Not completely. And it's become a front-burner issue again as comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan continue to surface (more on that on this blog later today).

If for that reason alone, the 59,000 American men and women who died in Vietnam, not to mention the many more who were wounded both physically and psychologically, should never be forgotten.

Jim Schueckler, a Vietnam veteran, is doing all he can to make sure Vietnam veterans are remembered and appropriately honored. Schueckler is founder and president of The Virtual Wall, which, he says, "brings the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to your home.' If you've ever visited the "The Wall" in Washington DC, you know how moving an experience it is. But for loved ones and friends of those who died in Vietnam who want something more personalized than just a name on a granite wall, or who can't make it to Washington, the Virtual Wall fills a void.

Advertisement, which has been around for more than a decade, is an exhaustive project filled with memorial pages, biographical material and even photos of every service member who died or went missing in the Vietnam War. Visitors can leave tributes, letters, poems, photos, and other memorials for other visitors to view.

Needless to say, there are many men and women who either lived in San Diego or were stationed here whose photos and bios can be found at the Virtual Wall. One of those is Richard Conroy Halpin (pictured above), whose page can be found here. An Air Force captain whose family was living in San Diego when he went to Vietnam, Halpin, whose father was a colonel in the Air Force, was stationed in Thailand but had finished his tour in March 1972 and was scheduled to come home. He'd already flown 150 missions, but volunteered to do one more. 'He was scheduled to be home by April Fools Day," explains his brother, Chip Halpin, who went to University High School here and was also in the Air Force. "He never made it home."

On March 29, 1972, Richard Halpin, who was 30 at the time, and 13 fellow crew members of an AC-130A Hercules "Spectre" gunship of the 16th Special Operations Squadron departed Ubon Airfield, Thailand, on a night reconnaissance mission over supply routes used by North Vietnamese forces in Laos. While attacking a convoy in southern Laos, the AC-130 was hit by a surface-to-air missile and crashed in mountainous jungle terrain. Halpin and the rest of the crew were listed as Missing in Action for 14 years.

"We were never certain what happened, and the US didn't have relations with Laos for many years so we couldn't get any information," says Chip Halpin. "They finally discovered the plane in 1984. All that remained were tiny bone fragments of the 14 crew members. But we positively identified Richard through DNA. In 1986, my father and I went to Hawaii, where the military had flown the remains of the crew members of my brother's plane, and then we came home and had a proper burial service. All we had were a few teeth and bone fragments, but it still felt like we finally had brought Richard home."

Chip Halpin says the Virtual Wall "is really above and beyond because you can get information on anyone who died or is missing in action in Vietnam, you can learn about their mission, see pictures, and more. People have made comments and have written really kind letters about Richard on his page. It's remarkable how much work they've done on this site."


It's unfortunate how few people seem to know about the Virtual Wall. It's likely to do with the fact that Vietnam veterans are an aging population, but also because the Vietnam War is something many Americans opposed and would simply like to forget. Regardless, the website is an exhaustive and invaluable resource for families and friends of the service members who died in that war.

On January 28, 2002, the Virtual Wall became an "official partner" in the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. Every six months, The Virtual Wall will donate a CD-ROM snapshot of the entire website. This places all of the photographs, poems, letters, citations, and indexes into the history archives of our country, ensuring their safe keeping and availability for future generations.