Thursday, November 10, 2005

Just before he was killed in the Vietnam War, Glen Luse’s brother Ken, an Army warrant officer, mailed two rolls of film home to his family. By the time the photographs had been processed, Ken was dead, and the grieving family was left with many questions and two rolls of photographs without captions.

Last year, Mr. Luse met a man pictured with his brother in the unexplained photos. Mr. Luse learned meaningful details about his brother’s last days and the circumstances of his death.

“I felt this great big weight come off my shoulders,” Mr. Luse said. “There’s a lot of closure involved in this.”

The two men met through the Virtual Wall, an online replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed to memorialize those killed in the Vietnam War. Family members, friends and other soldiers can come to the site to post letters, photographs, poems and other memorials to remember loved ones.

Site administrators say there are thousands of veterans’ names listed on the site, Because an individual memorial page can contain 10 or more postings by friends and family, the number of remembrances is higher still. People who connect via the Virtual Wall often meet for reunions, sharing photographs and memories of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“A lot of people wanted to make sure that their loved one or friend was remembered,” said Jim Schueckler, a Vietnam veteran who founded the Web site in 1997. “This is a technical version of leaving a note or a photograph at the wall itself.”

Though the Virtual Wall is not a complete listing of all Vietnam casualties, it welcomes family members, friends and fellow Vietnam troops to create memorials. The Web site also contains listings of veterans who won high military honors and a section detailing the status of those still listed as missing in action.

“The goal is to provide an environment like The Wall itself,” reads the Web site, “With the dignity and respect those named on The Wall have earned.”

A number of veterans and family members serve as volunteers, creating pages for veterans.

Mr. Luse, a veteran who is now an optician in Fort Madison, La., said connecting with veterans who served alongside his brother provided closure.

“Personally, for about 30 years, I felt I couldn’t talk about [my brothers death],” he said. “I didn’t want to stir up bad feelings.”

He said not only has he benefited by spending time with men who served with his brother, but those veterans appreciated the opportunity to share.

“The people that I’ve talked to that knew my brother, it helps them when they talk to the family,” Mr. Luse said. “They want to get connected.”

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