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Lest We Forget

by Nelson O. Ottenhausen

            This fall, as the American Legion and the VFW hold their annual conventions, a vital issue will be presented to their national representatives for a very important vote—a vote to support a national resolution for adding seventy-four (74) names of United States Navy personnel to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

            During the early morning hours on 3 June 1969, a horrifying naval training accident occurred in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War, costing the lives of 74 fighting men—men of the U.S. Navy.  On that fateful date the HMAS Melbourne (R21), an aircraft carrier of the Royal Australian Navy, rammed head-on into the port side of the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754), an American destroyer.  The severe impact completely severed the Evans just behind the forward funnel.  Within minutes the detached bow sank, taking 73 souls to a watery grave.  One casualty was later found in the water bringing the total dead to 74.

            Because of certain events happening before and after this tragic event, a question comes to mind—after all these years, why are the 74 names of the Evans’ sailors who perished that night still not on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in our nation’s Capitol? 

            These men gave the ultimate sacrifice and certainly deserve to be there. 

            Each sailor lost in the Evans disaster should have their name placed on the Wall because they served with proven honor and courage while on active military duty during war time, and for making the greatest sacrifice of all for their country—their lives.  It seems unreasonable to deny these men from being memorialized alongside their fellow Vietnam War veterans, veterans killed in combat while serving our nation in the military. 

            For over forty-two years, members of the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association have been diligent in trying to get the Department of Defense to inscribe the Evans’ 74 casualties onto the Wall and into the annals of history.  Thus far they have not succeeded because of unbending resistance from U.S. Navy and Pentagon officials, claiming these men were not within the prescribed Vietnam War combat zone and did not die as a result of enemy fire.

            While testifying at a United States Senate subcommittee hearing in 2003, Lt. Colonel James Zumwalt, USMCR, entered into the record a statement regarding Senate bill 296, Fairness to All Fallen Vietnam War Service Members Act of 2003.  The following two paragraphs are excerpts from Col. Zumwalt’s statement.

            ‘The circumstances surrounding the loss of the EVANS are straightforward.  Reporting for duty at Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam on May 5th, the ship immediately demonstrated she was a valuable asset in the war effort.  The crew received several commendatory messages for their professionalism, responsiveness and accuracy in destroying enemy targets in support of our fighting forces ashore.  They participated as well in what was one of the largest amphibious assaults of that war.  EVANS departed the combat zone, along with her two sister ships, for a brief logistics stop in Subic Bay before participating in Operation Sea Spirit in the South China Sea.  Sea Spirit involved vessels from navies representing five of our six allies in Vietnam.  EVANS, along with the two sister ships in her squadron, became the US Navy contingent of a five destroyer screen operating with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE.  At 0310 on June 3rd, as the ships were still observing darkened ship wartime conditions operating on a specified zig-zag plan, EVANS was ordered to take up the preliminary position for duty rescue ship 1000 yards aft of MELBOURNE prior to the Aussie conducting flight operations.

            ‘The reason given is the EVANS' victims do not meet DOD eligibility standards for such inclusion, which require that death occur within the combat zone and as a result of enemy fire.  However, the eligibility standards cited as a basis for denial have been given a broad interpretation over the years to, in fact, include others now whose names are on The Wall but who fail to meet the same criteria applied to the EVANS' 74.’ 

            In 2003 and 2007, Ms Millender-McDonald introduced similar bills, H.R. 1172 and H.R. 2540, to the House of Representatives, ‘To require the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress regarding the requirements applicable to the inscription of veterans’ names on the memorial wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.’  Section 1, paragraph ten (10) of bill H.R. 1172 states, ‘Examples of such names include the names of the 74 service members who died aboard the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans (DD–754) on June 3, 1969, while the ship was briefly outside the combat zone participating in a training exercise.’

            The House leadership then referred both bills to the Armed Services Committee where no further action was taken and the bills expired.  The same results happened to Senate bill 296.  All three legislative attempts failed because they were too general in nature and tried to encompass other veteran’s names from similar situations where the DOD refused to inscribe the names because of ineligibility according to DOD directives at that time.

            It is interesting to note, the two sister ships accompanying the Evans to the South China Sea exercise returned to the combat line at Yankee Station just a few days after the catastrophic incident, and were only ninety miles away from their permanent assignment during the training.  This indicates the time spent with the allies was a TDY (Temporary Duty) assignment.  Afterward all ships involved were to return to active combat status when completed with the training mission.  However, it appears this fact wasn’t considered in past DOD decisions.

            But now there is good news on the horizon.  Recently, the Arizona American Legion Convention unanimously passed a resolution supporting a favorable decision for the DOD to include the 74 Evans sailors on the Wall who died that fateful night.  This resolution will be presented at the American Legion national convention in Minneapolis, MN later this year and is expected to pass without difficulty.  The same events are happening in the VFW and they too are expected to approve a similar resolution

            Both service organizations adopted a 420-word resolution composed by The Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association addressed to the Secretary of the Navy.  Primary points of the resolution are in the following two paragraphs. 

            ‘WHEREAS: The USS FRANK E. EVANS (DD 754) was providing artillery fire support to combat forces in Vietnam shortly before the collision and was ordered to participate in an allied Naval show of force called “Operation Sea Spirit”, however, the Department of Defense determined that the accident occurred outside the war zone and denied placing the names of the lost 74 sailors on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall;

            ‘THEREFORE: We, the undersigned members of the FRANK E. EVANS (DD 754) Association, survivors of the accident, shipmates, family members of the deceased 74, friends and concerned persons, respectfully petition the Secretary of the Navy, of the United States of America, The Honorable Ray Mabus, to make a recommendation to the President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama, to issue an executive order placing the names of the lost 74 sailors of the FRANK E. EVANS (DD 754) who died on June 3, 1969 on the Wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.’

            A copy of the resolution can be seen at web sites: www.ussfrankeevansassociationdd754.org

            Any individual or service organization, such as Kiwanis, Rotary and other like societies, wishing to show their support for inscribing the Evan’s 74 names on the Wall can do so by contacting Kristina Griffin at email address: Kristina.griffin@mail.house.gov where the messages will be coordinated and sent on to the office of Congressman Adam Schiff.  Already, there are over 5000 individuals, as well as the American Legion and VFW members, who have indicated their support and willingness, “to do whatever is needed to bring this just cause to a successful close.”

            An historical account of Evans’ disastrous event is available in a book written by Paul Sherbo, CAPT, USNR (Ret.) titled Unsinkable Sailors: The fall and rise of last crew of the USS Frank E. Evans, and published by Patriot Media, Incorporated.  The book is based on testimony from personal interviews with surviving crew members and from the official naval records of the Board of Inquiry convened to investigate the tragic accident.  The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com and www.patriotmediainc.com.

           

 

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Petition to the Secretary of the Navy to add the lost 74 crewmembers from the USS Frank E. Evans DD754 to the Vietnam Memorial Wall (Click to Download Petition)

The link below is to a short video with film footage and photographs of the USS Frank E. Evans at the time of the collision.  This is neither an endorsement nor a critique of the video, but anyone interested in the collision may find it interesting.  Note the footage of a bow going down - it appears to have been shot in daylight, and since the Evans' bow sank before 3:30 a.m., we're unsure what that footage is.   Note, you will be routed to a different web page. 
Click here for Video

Media Coverage for Unsinkable Sailors

KEZW, Denver CO, Radio interview:
 

Author's Notes

It has been very gratifying to hear from so many of the Frank E. Evans crew, saying that they feel the book is an accurate description of the events surrounding the collision.  The thing that concerned me most was that I would fail to convey their story accurately.  It is an important story, and one that deserved to be told.