(NEW YORK) — It is difficult not to be moved when visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. For most it is heart wrenching to see the toll of that war so vividly laid out, with more than 58,000 names etched in stone.
One of those chiseled names is Leonard Lanzarin, or Larry to his friends.
Lanzarin was just 19 when he joined the army in 1969 and was sent to Vietnam. He would die there a year later from malaria. His fiancé at the time, Melinda Valle, still grieves.
“He was a person, a young person with hopes and dreams,” she said. Valle has been to the Wall, but for her it was “devastating … because there was no face to his name. He was so much more than something carved in granite.”
Now, Valle and others who have lost loved ones in military conflicts can put a face to the name on a virtual wall. Called the Roll of Honor, it has been part of a larger website, TogetherWeServe, accessible only to members of the military.
But founder Brian Foster says it’s time to go public.
“These profiles have been private for so long,” said Foster. “We felt it fitting that these profiles be in the public view … to ensure that families across America [can] apply to make the profile as complete and accurate for posterity.”
Foster, who was born in Scotland and did business with the U.S. military, spent millions of his own money to create TogetherWeServe, a social networking site for veterans in 2002, even before Facebook was launched.
“We were doing this while Zuckerberg was doing his exams,” laughed Foster.
Part of that website was set aside for the Roll of Honor, which already includes 100,000 fallen profiles, with information on all of those who lost their lives in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and some who died in World War II and Korea.
“We know a great deal more fell in World War II and Korea”, Foster said. “And even though we have a profile for everyone who fell in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, many are not as complete as they could be.”
Time is running out. Of the 24 million veterans in the U.S. today, about half are from World War II, and Foster says “they are passing at a rate of 4,000 a day. It is our objective to try to capture the stories of these service people before it’s too late.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire