Ronald Perkins, a military veteran from Manchester, was wearing a navy-blue hat with the name USS Frank E. Evans embossed on it.
I asked, “Are you a Navy veteran?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Is that the name of the ship you served on?”
“Yes,” he remarked, “I am one of the survivors.”
“What?” I said with surprise.
“My ship was sliced in half by an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War,” Mr. Perkins solemnly explained to me.
There were 74 American sailors who died in a little-known tragic accident that happened during a war training exercise off Vietnam on June 3, 1969. During night maneuvers involving several ships, a wrong turn was made that resulted in the USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) getting a broadside hit from an Australian aircraft carrier. The Evans was cut in half.
The bow of the destroyer is reported to have sunk within minutes, with 74 of her crew members being killed. Incredibly, the stern somehow stayed afloat and saved the lives of the rest of the crew.
The stern section was later towed to Subic Bay in the Philippines and was eventually sunk as a training target.
Perkins said the survivors of the Evans have been trying for years to have the names of the sailors placed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. But the Pentagon has refused, saying the accident occurred outside the war zone.
Perkins told me the veterans of the USS Frank E. Evans Association have recently been able to get a bill in the Senate. The USS Frank E. Evans Act (S.849) is titled as “A bill to provide for the inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall of the names of the lost crew members of the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans killed on June 3, 1969.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., introduced S.849 on March 14. There are currently 15 cosponsors of the bill, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Angus King, I-Maine.
The USS Frank E. Evans Association website has the names and a photo of each of the 74 sailors. Many of the sailors were only about 19 years old.
Two of the sailors killed were from New Hampshire. Ronald Arthur Thibodeau was born in Manchester and had a wife and son. Gary Joseph Vigue was born in Dover and graduated from Farmington High School. He also had a wife and son.
Three brothers, the Sage brothers, had requested to serve together on the Evans. Seamen Gary (22), Gregory (21) and Kelly Jo (19) all perished in the accident. The brothers were honored in their hometown of Niobrara, Neb., with a memorial plaque.
The plaque states: “This tragedy was perhaps the greatest single loss suffered by any Nebraska family of the many who have contributed their sons to the service of the Nation.”
The plaque continues: “At memorial services in Niobrara on June 11, 1969, the Governor of Nebraska eulogized the brothers saying that ‘Every generation of Americans has answered the call to the colors... so it was with the Sage brothers who were serving in the finest tradition of the American fighting man. In the truest sense, they gave up their lives that we might continue to enjoy the fruits of freedom.’”
Another sad chapter of this tragedy was that a father and son were serving together on the Evans. The father, Lawrence Reilly Sr., survived the accident but his son, Lawrence Reilly Jr., died.
I believe President Trump, as commander-in-chief of our military, should order that the names of the 74 sailors who perished serving on active duty in the Vietnam War on the USS Frank E. Evans be inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Our country has a duty to honor them for sacrificing their lives for us.
They are not, and will never be, “lost sailors.”