Claude Roberts was just 20 when he stepped on a land mine in April 11, 1968, in Binh Dinh province along Vietnam’s central coast.
Just a year earlier, almost to the day, his father had accidentally drowned in a Belle Glade canal.
“Tell your lawyer that your husband is dead and you need me home to help you out,” Claude had written his mother. But before Daisy Roberts could take action, a dark car carrying two men in uniform rolled down the street of her Delray Beach neighborhood and stopped at her door.
“All I had to see was the front end of it (the car),” she told The Palm Beach Post in 1970. “I just went limp.”
Roberts’ name is on the iconic Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., but a group wanted to know what he looked like. It’s hoping people who knew him, and hundreds of others in Florida, including 15 in Palm Beach County, will donate photos to the “Wall. Faces.”
The project is associated with the Vietnam Memorial Wall Fund, the nonprofit created to build the wall. Its goal is to have a face for each of the 58,000 names inscribed. Organizers hope to build an education center near the wall, where people can access information, photos and stories.
Seventy-six Palm Beach County men are listed as having died in Vietnam.
Recently, a Florida organizer, Gary J. McDaniel, contacted The Palm Beach Post, hoping the newspaper would post a list of the 14 area residents for whom the group needed photos, and readers would come forward.
For Claude Roberts, it didn’t even take long. A reporter made a routine check of The Post’s photo library and found a grainy photo of him, crouching in combat fatigues, his helmet in front of him.
The public will have to deliver the rest.
Nationwide, the list of names without photos is down to about 4,600. In 24 states, faces have been found for each soldier.
Just in the last 20 months, photos of more than 640 Florida soldiers have been obtained and posted on the website. About 130 others still need photos. Of those, about 70 are black, and the project is working with the Florida African American Preservation Network.
Of Florida’s 67 counties, six have at least 12 outstanding names (Miami-Dade, 34; Broward, 19; Hillsborough 17; Palm Beach 15; Duval 14; and Escambia 12).
People with photos can go right to the “Faces” webpage — www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces — and can upload photos directly.
McDaniel, a 68-year-old Acreage resident who’s been a private investigator for 43 years, was in the military from January 1969 to December 1970. “I was an unsuccessful draft dodger,” he joked. He said injuries from a drunk driver kept him stateside as a trainer. Many of those he trained did go to Vietnam, and some didn’t come back.
A while back, he said, he saw an article about the “Faces” project and volunteered to help.
Each soldier usually involves six to 15 hours of research, McDaniel said.
“We regionalize the searches based on the soldier’s city of enlistment, and then search for grave markers and obituaries, before using public sources,” he said.
MacDaniel said the advent of genealogy databases such Ancestry.com has complemented the databases to which he already has access as a private investigator.
“I would say 15 years ago, it would have taken us four times as long,” McDaniel said.
When he’s able to find a face to go with a name, “It’s very personal,” he said. “It reminds me how young we were.”
And, he said, “I’m finding out that most of those we contact who have pictures are very emotional about the opportunity to represent the picture to us. They are thankful that 50 years later, we have not forgotten.”
DO YOU HAVE THEIR PHOTOS?
These 14 Palm Beach County men are among the 76 local residents killed in Vietnam for whom the Vietnam Wall Memorial Fund’s “Wall of Faces” project is hoping to find photos.
— Reginald T. Byrd, West Palm Beach. Born March 8, 1948. Army. Died Sept. 11, 1969.
— Joseph J. Harper, Belle Glade. Born June 10, 1928. Army. Died May 3, 1970.
— Elmer L. Juckett III, West Palm Beach. Born Nov. 8, 1947. Army. Died Jan. 2, 1967.
— Robert W. Labrecoque, Riviera Beach. Born May 21, 1951. Army. Died Sept. 18, 1969.
— Samuel C. Macon, Delray Beach. Born Oct. 8, 1947. Marines. Died Feb. 25, 1969.
— John M. McLellan, West Palm Beach. Born Feb. 6, 1949. Army. Died Nov. 13, 1969.
— Richard D. Miller, Delray Beach. Born Oct. 23, 1951. Army. Died March 10, 1971.
— Archie L. Nelson, Jr., Delray Beach. Born Jan. 12, 1948. Army. Died Aug. 15, 1968.
— Lorenzo R. Pettis, West Palm Beach. Born Aug. 22, 1949. Army. Died June 12, 1969.
— Cleveland Pitts, Boynton Beach. Born Dec. 19, 1947. Army. Died Dec. 4, 1969.
— Albert J. Scruggs, or Schruggs, West Palm Beach. Born Jan. 11, 1949. Army. Died Sept. 23, 1969.
— Ismael Solis, Lake Worth. Born Nov. 18, 1947. Army. Died May 9, 1969.
— Genrett Williams, Jupiter. Born May 15, 1944. Army. Died Jan. 31, 1966.
— Charlie M. Young, Riviera Beach. Born June 8, 1942. Army. Died Feb. 28, 1966.