Survivors of USS Frank E. Evans disaster fighting to have fallen shipmates recognized

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- They survived a deadly Naval disaster in the Vietnam War, and now they're hoping those who lost their lives get the recognition they deserve.

Steven Krause left the Port of Long Beach in the spring of 1969, bound for the coast of Vietnam. He was one of 273 sailors on board the Destroyer USS Frank E. Evans headed to war.

Today, Krause is the president of the USS Frank E. Evans Association.

The group was formed by the survivors, which includes the dad of ABC7's Leticia Juarez.

"One American is known dead, but 73 others are still missing more than one full day after the disaster in the South China Sea," an ABC News anchor said on June 3, 1969.

It was how many Americans learned of the Evans fate.

The destroyer collided with the Australian carrier Melbourne after turning into its path. The ship was sliced in two during a training exercise.

"I was at deaths door," recalled Evans survivor Roy Peters. "We had been hit with 850 degrees-steam, 600 pounds of pressure in the forward engine room. All our guys were burned except one."

Peters barely survived the disaster, and 74 of his fellow shipmates did not.

But their service and sacrifice were never recognized on the memorial dedicated to the men and women of the Vietnam War.

"The most appalling thing was that the 74 names were not on the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C.," said Krause.

In 2004, the city of Long Beach became the first to recognize the 74 by having their name placed at a local memorial, but the survivors said they have been fighting the Department of Defense for the last 15 years to have their shipmates' names recognized on the Vietnam wall in Washington D.C.

"They'd been excluded because they were outside of a official combat zone," explained Tim Wendler, whose father was killed on Evans.

Wendler was 2 years old when his father, Ron Thibodeau, was killed. He and survivors are working with members of the House and Senate to get the names added to the wall.

The House has passed an amendment to include them, and the Senate version is now in committee.

"It would be some closure, I think, that finally our country is remembering my father and the 73 other men who gave their lives for us," Wendler said.
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