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Clay County Veterans Services officer trying to return military photos to their owners
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Clay County Veterans Services officer trying to return military photos to their owners

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Clay County veterans photos

Cynthia Aden, Clay County Veterans Services officer, holds a stack of photographs of Clay County veterans Thursday at the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion, S.D. Aden, who is retiring this year, has digitized all of the veteran portraits that previously hung in her office and now wants to return the photographs to the veterans' families.

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Earlier this year, Clay County Veterans Services officer Cynthia Aden had to move to a smaller office in the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion. 

A room adjoining her old office displayed 774 photos of Clay County veterans, some dating back to the Civil War. The many photos couldn't fit in her new office, so she and her colleagues scanned the print photos and turned them into a slideshow on a television monitor in the courthouse.

A keyboard enables viewers to search for veterans by name, gender, branch of service and the conflict in which they served.

The television monitor solved the display issue, but the courthouse still had the old photos on its hands, and storage space is finite. 

So Aden is trying to get the photos back to their owners, in some cases the veterans themselves, and in some cases the families of deceased veterans. 

"What I'm doing is, giving them back to the families as I can," Aden said. 

This part of the project has been its own challenge, because some of the photos offered precious few clues of where to find their owners. 

[Read more: American flags get special attention, presentation in Holstein.]

"For the most part, there was no information other than the name of the veteran on the photos. So I did not have any way to know who I should contact," she said. "There are some people, of course, that I know personally, and so I've been trying to spread the word, you know, 'Come and get your photos.'" 

Aden said she's not sure exactly how many photos she's managed to return to their owners, but she still has quite a large number on her hands. She said the courthouse will store the photos for at least a few years. 

Female veteran Cynthia Aden

Army veteran Cynthia Aden is shown in an October 2017 file photo. She was handing out American flags along the parade route at a combined VFW and American Legion entry in the University of South Dakota's annual Dakota Days homecoming parade. Aden served in the Army from 1975 to 1978 and is the Clay County (S.D.) Veterans Services officer.

The rotating display on the screen, meanwhile, now has a few more photos than when it went live in March. Viewers don't even have to be at the courthouse to see the pictures -- the display has its own webpage

"I've had more people come forward, and then as I've gone through some of the junk in my office -- I actually have, it's like 782 now," Aden said. 

Aden said the public's reaction to the electronic display has been mostly positive, though she said, some "are sad that we don't have them on in-person display." 

"That was a hard thing to give up," she added. "But, most people, again, are really happy that we didn't just not have a display at all." 

One Vermillion resident who's been enjoying the photo display is Richard "Dick" Stensaas, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who enlisted first in the Army National Guard in 1955 and served a total of eight years. He visits the photo display periodically, making sure to stop by and peruse the pictures any time he's at the courthouse. 

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Stensaas, who worked in the Signal Corps but was not deployed overseas, knew others from the area who served and a few who died in the service. He served one year of active duty, in 1961. 

"It's interesting to me, to see, and to read about the different ones," he said. "And, so, that's kind of why I stop in once in a while and just look over the pictures." 

The veterans' photo display will soon become the domain of a new person -- Aden plans to retire at the end of December after nine years on the job. Her replacement, Gulf War-era Army veteran Andrew "Drew" Gunderson, began transitioning into the role the first full week of November. 

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