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Compatriots want crewmen lost at sea honored on Vietnam memorial

June 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Forty-four years ago Monday, two warships collided off the coast of Vietnam One of them, the USS Frank E. Evans was sliced in half. The forward half of the ship sank, taking 74 American servicemen to their deaths. But their names are not inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial. There's a push to change that.

They are the 74 names of the USS Frank E. Evans crew who never made it home from Vietnam. It's a story I know well -- because my father is one of the ship's survivors.

For the past several years, surviving crewmates have come together in Long Beach to remember what happened 44 years ago on June 3.

"We're here to remember our shipmates because we've pledged we would never forget. We hold their memories close. We remember that morning with such clarity," said Roy "Pete" Peters, one of the survivors.

On the morning of June 3, 1969, the Evans had turned into the path of an Australian aircraft carrier the HMS Melbourne which sliced the U.S. destroyer in two.

Peters remembers being scalded by steam.

"All of the guys except one got burned. And then the water came in. Thank God for that. The sea came in, pushed the steam out, probably saved our life," said Peters.

Signalman Steve Kraus had been on the Evans less than a month. He was on watch above deck and remembers the moment of impact.

"The forward section, the one I was on, it rolled over into the water. It went down bow up," said Kraus.

It sank to the ocean floor in South China Sea, taking 74 lives.

Many at home learned of the tragedy watching the evening news, including my own father's family. They waited three long terrifying days before learning he had survived.

Frank Kerr also remembers waiting, only to find out his brother Jim had been lost at sea.

"We watched the evening news and they said that the USS Frank E. Evans, DD 754 had been involved in a collision, and my heart sunk," said Kerr.

Although the crew of the Evans had just participated in a gun line tasked with bombarding the Vietnam coast, the 74 sailors' names are not listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The Evans collision happed 200 miles outside the designated combat zone and the deaths were not because of enemy action. The decision to omit the names has upset the families of those lost and the surviving crew members.

"It really seemed like a mistake to us, why he wouldn't be remembered along with all the others who had given their lives for our country," said Tim Wendler, whose father was killed.

"Exceptions have been made to putting people on the wall and we think that the Department of Defense should re-examine their criteria and just make an exception for our 74," said Steve Kraus.

Last month the crew of the Evans petitioned all 42 Congress members of the Armed Services Committee asking that the names be added. They are asking others to contact their local congressional representatives to do the same.

For more information: USS Frank E Evans Association

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