DES MOINES, Iowa — Cross-country efforts to track down a photo of an Iowa soldier who was killed in the Vietnam War have turned up an image of the man when he was 14 years old.
A photo of Staff Sgt. David L. McCombs was provided Thursday by an Illinois man, said Chris Mudge, executive director of the Iowa Newspaper Association. The photo of McCombs, a U.S. Army soldier who was born in Oskaloosa and died at age 26 in Vietnam, was the last one needed to complete Iowa's contribution to the Vietnam Memorial Fund's "Wall of Faces." The tribute aims to put faces to the more than 58,000 names currently listed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
A total of 851 Iowans died in Vietnam, according to the National Archives, and photos for each of them had been previously located, except for one of McCombs. It was finally unearthed thanks to familial ties, with the photo found by a man living in the Chicago area whose great-grandfather was married to McCombs' mother, her second marriage, Mudge said.
The search for the photo was publicized Monday when Mudge joined with Gov. Terry Branstad at the governor's regular weekly news conference and sought help finding McCombs' image. Before, the Iowa Newspaper Association had been contacting local newspapers to find photos of 47 fallen soldiers from the Vietnam War, and the Iowa Department of Veteran Affairs tapped into its resources to uncover a photo of McCombs to no avail.
On Thursday, Mudge said the search had reached New Mexico, where McCombs' mother is reported to have lived and died, and Chula Vista, California, where his last known address was identified and his funeral arrangements were handled.
"When we couldn't find any family members in Iowa or locate school records, we assumed he must have gone to school and lived out there," Mudge said.
George DeCastro, who has coordinated the effort to collect photos from across the country, said a handful of other states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Hawaii, are also wrapping up their photo-gathering efforts. Though Iowa has located McCombs' photo, DeCastro said it hasn't yet been submitted.
Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said that's because the Iowa Department of Veteran Affairs is still working to find a photo of McCombs that was taken closer to the date of his death. A letter has been sent to a man believed to be McCombs' son in Irvine, California, to verify their relationship and request a picture for the project, he said
"The governor is obviously very pleased that highlighting this initiative has yielded such great results so far," Centers said, noting that he remains optimistic that a more recent photo will turn up.