ALBANY, N. Y. – The Pentagon has denied a long-standing request to add the names of 74 AMERICAN sailors who died in 1969 ship collision to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C.
The USS Frank E. Evans was participating in a night exercise in the South china Sea, where it turned into the path of an Australian aircraft carrier and was split in two. The World War II-era destroyer’s stern section remained afloat, while the bow section sank.
Survivors and relatives of those killed have been pushing the Ministry of Defence for the year to add the 74 names on the wall, because the ship had supported ground operations in Vietnam just a few weeks earlier and probably have been sent back to the war zone after the exercise. But the Pentagon, in a ruling this month stuck to their position that the Evans victims are excluded to be added to the wall, because the accident took place outside the Vietnam combat zone.
It was a decision that angered retired Navy Master Chief Lawrence Reilly Sr., a Evans survivor whose 20-year-old son, also named Lawrence, was one of the people killed.
“I’m not happy with the whole thing,” the 92-year-old the second world WAR and the Vietnam veteran said of his Syracuse home. “It is a bad deal.”
Instead of granting an exemption for the warzone line, the Pentagon has offered to pay tribute to the fallen sailors by listing their names on a plaque to be placed in the education centre to be built in the vicinity of the wall. But with less than half of the $130 million cost of the centre raised so far, the offer is dismissed by some of the Evans survivors.
“They throw us a bone,” said Steve Kraus, a survivor and vice-president of the USS Frank E. Evans Association. “They think, ‘OK, OK, maybe this all go away now.'”
Kraus, a 70-year-old retired utility supervisor, Carlsbad, California, said in the Evans association reluctantly accepted the Pentagon’s offer of a separate memorial, while others argue for the continuation of the struggle for placement on the wall. Randy Henderson, of the Hidden, New York, is one of the last faction. He was 13 when his older brother Randy died on Evans.
“We are still steadfast and go forward,” he said.
The Pentagon the last rejection came after the Evans survivors pinned their hopes on Marine records that the group said showed the ship was awarded a Vietnam Service Medal, 2 June 1969, a day before the accident. The medal was given only to ships and sailors in the Vietnam combat zone.
But the Navy review of the records last fall determined, there was no documentation to support such a claim.
The Evans sailors “do not meet the criteria for the registration of their names on the wall,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. “The deputy secretary of the defense extensively reviewed information and documents for making an informed decision.”
The Evans veterans say that the Pentagon previously granted exceptions to the criteria for adding names to the memorial, including dozens of Marines who were killed when the plane with them back to Vietnam from leave in Hong Kong, crashed during take-off.
The Evans group effort has the support of the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who ran two years ago on behalf of the four sailors of his state, who died in the collision.
Also killed in the accident were the three Sage brothers-Gary, Gregory and Kelly — of Skull, Nebraska. Their mother, Eunice Sage, wanted her sons names on the monument, Kraus said. She died in 2010.
“She wanted this so bad,” Kraus said. “That’s all they would talk about.”