This article appeared in the November 1985 issue of Online Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers.
CompuServe users no longer have to travel to Washington D.C. to locate the names of family and friends on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Dedicated in 1982, this privately-financed monument lists more than 58,000 missing or killed American men and women. The black granite memorial consists of two intersecting 250-foot walls of 70 panels each; names are inscribed in chronological order according to date of casualty.
Access to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Directory can be obtained in several ways. After typing GO VET, you can search the database by the person’s last name, branch of service, date of casualty, home city and home state. When using the last name, however, another item should be included as you may get an extensive listing. Date of birth and/or casualty allows for a range of dates; for example, typing 6/10/69, 9/12/69 gives information about all the casualties between those two dates. For a search including home state, the standard two-letter code for the state is used; a listing of state codes is available through the menu. Similarly, a codification listing is supplied to persons accessing the directory through the branch of the military.
“If you’re planning to visit the Memorial, the CompuServe Directory allows you to find the panel number beforehand, eliminating time-consuming searches,” comments Dan Meeks, product manager and a Vietnam Veteran himself.
The directory also provides information regarding the person’s branch of service, date of birth and casualty, rank, hometown, and whether or not he is Missing In Action (MIA). This is especially helpful to other veterans and friends trying to locate the families of those listed on the wall. “A visit or a phone call from a buddy who served with a loved one is always meaningful,” notes Meeks.
In addition, the database supplies updates on issues concerning the Memorial itself, such as maintenance problems with the walls, and information on Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, including an online interview with Jan Scruggs, executive director. He discusses difficulties in obtaining land and Congressional backing, along with the mixed reception of the veteran community to the controversial design.
Yet the Vietnam Memorial directory is but one aspect of CompuServe’s rapidly expanding Military Veterans’ Services. By typing GO VET, all subscribers can access these features:
Information Highlights. This section consists of recent news developments applicable to veterans. Topics include updates on benefits, survivors’ reunions, and what politicians are doing to help or hinder the veteran.
Features and Book Reviews. Historical and factual articles, personal essays, and book reviews covering all aspects of and perspectives on the Vietnam war are covered in this section. Users can access a list of chartered veterans’ organizations along with a locator service. Subscribers can immediately determine the veteran’s group closest to their homes. The mail locator is especially useful when veterans can’t find their buddies using the CompuServe locator or if non-vets want to contact someone who served in the military. Users write a letter to the desired recipient then send it to an address provided by the Department of Defense.
Agent Orange Information. Agent Orange (AO) was a poisonous herbicide designed to deprive the enemy of cover and food during the Vietnam war. Sprayed over much of South Vietnam between 1965–71, it contains dioxin, a highly toxic substance. The Agent Orange section consists of detailed, comprehensive information. It includes newspaper and magazine extracts on recent legal actions, a discussion of the Air Force “Ranch Hand” epidemiologic study of approximately 1,200 officers and crewmen who handled and sprayed the herbicide in Vietnam, and a description of ongoing studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
The AO menu also contains summaries and lists places to contact for information. These resources discuss health effects and symptoms along with reviewing the available medical literature. Persons searching for more immediate answers can access Commonly-Asked Questions, covering such topics as determination of exposure levels, risk of birth defects and legal alternatives.
Answers to Your Questions. In this section, subscribers get legal and governmental advice on veterans’ issues. Users can obtain instant replies to common queries regarding loans, benefits and discharges. They can also input specific questions and receive feedback.
POW/MIA Information. “New developments on this controversial topic are still occurring,” says Meeks. This area contains information on the return of previously unaccounted-for MIA remains, discussions on whether or not Americans are still being held in Vietnam, and updates on U.S. government efforts in this area. The number of still-missing Prisoners of War (POW)s and MIAs are also listed by state.
The following two services are for military veterans only:
Military Veterans Forum. Consisting of over 2,000 members and growing daily, this forum provides an in-depth look at many of the topics from a veterans point of view. Users can exchange ideas and experiences. Additional subjects cover personal adjustment, like post-traumatic stress disorders and today’s military.
Veterans National Locator Service. Consisting of more than 3,000 names, this directory is open only to forum members. When adding information, subscribers are asked specific questions about locations, unit nicknames, length of service, and so forth. Veterans can also include names and addresses of non-user buddies. When searching for someone, data on the person’s branch of service, last name, unit name/nickname and duty station is needed. Because the program allows for spelling differences, members always get more information than they need. Thus “the locator service increases the chances of finding the person you’re looking for,” explains Meeks. “It’s also a permanent record of inquiry, unlike a one-time, hit-or-miss classified ad or notice.”
Military Veterans Services users are primarily from the Vietnam era, a generation heavily involved with computers. But Meeks hopes to expand it to include more veterans from other eras, along with adding to the Vietnam network. “The Memorial Directory and many other databases are the only consolidated records of this type,” he says. “So in order to utilize the services to the ultimate advantage, we want to reach as many people as possible.”
To access any of the Services for Military Veterans, type GO VET at any prompt in the CompuServe Information Service.
— Sandra Gurvis