Ancestry.com recently launched a website called The Honor Wall, offering a chance to memorialize millions who served in uniform.
The largely free site containing memorial pages is available atwww.fold3.com/wall. On the website, it states, “We invite you to visit the Honor Wall and help us pay tribute to America’s veterans by sharing your own memories, stories, and photos of a loved one. Whether you have family or friends serving now, or have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War or other conflicts in between, join us in commemorating them. With your help, the Honor Wall will keep their stories alive.”
For Larry Oakley, who flew Huey helicopters in Vietnam and whose 90-year-old dad, Bill Oakley, piloted a C-47 in World War II, the chance to enshrine fading images online comes none too soon. “I’ve got a closet full of 35mm slides that I desperately need to find someone who can digitize all of those before they disappear,” says Oakley 64, of Frederick, Md. “Hopefully this (site) will just pick up and roll. I think a lot of people are interested.”
The concept is patterned after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where the names of all 58,000 servicemembers who died in the war are inscribed, except that this digital wall is devoted to anyone who served America in uniform.
“We thought it would be great if the nation had a place where there was essentially a wall across all wars, giving everybody the opportunity to find a name, memorialize a soldier,” says Brian Hansen, general manager of Fold3, a subscription site for military records and an ancestry.com subsidiary.
Fold3 created and is managing the Honor Wall. Hansen says the site allows users to fill existing memorial pages devoted to relatives or ancestors who served in the military with scanned images of old muster sheets, letters, photographs or any other memorabilia gathering dust in attics and basements. It’s as simple as searching the name for those you know.
If you can’t locate a Memorial Page for someone, create one of your own and add it to the Honor Wall. It’s easy! Just follow the prompts to choose the conflict in which someone served, then add more facts about the individual, including military service. The “Find more records” button will even give you links to possible matches to records on Fold3, Newspapers.com, and Ancestry.com.
Visitors who register on the site can add their own research or create their own pages. They can choose whether to restrict access to the pages they create, Hansen says. The site will allow the opportunity to report abuse or historical inaccuracies.
Designers set up the individual memorial pages for more than 20 million people who served in the military, much of the information drawn from government archives of past conflicts through World War II.
Privacy restrictions make it more difficult to obtain official documents about troops from more recent wars, says Gordon Atkinson, marketing director for Fold3, and that’s where there’s hope the public will contribute memorabilia on newer veterans.
Although signing up for the site and viewing much of it and personal records can be done for free, The Honor Wall charges a subscription fee for visitors to dig more deeply into certain military archives, Atkinson says.
“What we hope they get out of it is that there are different ways to explore records and to share and kind of collaborate as a community to bring these stories back and honor veterans,” he says.
Pages devoted to Larry Oakley’s service in Vietnam with the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1972 and his father’s missions for the Army Air Corps in Indochina during World War II were among the first test cases.
Larry Oakley says he pored through old family archives for images to populate his Vietnam page. “For the younger guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, (memorabilia) should be lying there right on the dresser,” he says.
Once you’ve contributed to the Honor Wall, let others know. Choose the “Share” link at the bottom of any Memorial Page. Spread the word, and help us commemorate all of America’s heroes. It’s up to each of us to help build the Honor Wall.