WASHINGTON -- The National Archives is joining with a Web site to make historical records of tens of thousands of deceased Vietnam War veterans available electronically for the first time.
The interactive site -- www.footnote.com -- is a Web re-creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. The site allows access to thousands of pages of casualty records and agency photos. People can search by name, hometown, birth date, tour date or dozens of other categories.
Such information now is typically found only at National Archives locations, including the headquarters in College Park, Md., and by poring through files organized by topic. That makes searches a hit-or-miss proposition with long odds of finding relevant information, the agency said.
Hundreds of veterans visit the central research room each year "to examine the documents that may enable them to establish their rights, and, just as with the wall, to honor, remember and appreciate," said Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States. "And historians increasingly turn to these essential records to explain the significance of the Vietnam conflict in American history."
The site will help "provide ever-greater access to our critical holdings on this subject," he said.
The interactive wall allows people to post photographs they may have of a deceased veteran and to make comments. The service is currently free for Vietnam War information; the company is deciding whether to charge fees for some of the 50,000 National Archives photos now digitized.
The goal is to tell the stories behind the more than 58,000-plus names on the wall' polished black granite, with information such as specialty, rank, posthumous decorations, regiment, cause of death and whether the body was recovered, the company said.
"We know that there are many untold experiences represented on that wall and we hope that this interactive version of the memorial helps those affected by the war by sharing their stories," said Russell Wilding, chief executive officer of footnote.com.
Veterans advocacy groups praised the move as a good way to promote public awareness of the contributions of those who served in Vietnam. But some said they would like to see the effort expanded to provide electronic access of records for living Vietnam veterans. Many of them must go through a lengthy process of searching for records at the Archives and elsewhere to establish a disability claim with the government.
"It's a wonderful thing they're doing. We certainly have to do much to honor our dead," said Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America. "But we continue to press for access for living veterans. The whole rest of the world is digitized, so why not military action reports?"