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Son campaigns to add the names of the 'Lost 74' sailors to the Vietnam Memorial




The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
U.S. National Park Service

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During the Vietnam War, the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans was struck by an Australian aircraft carrier during a training exercise in the South China Sea. On that day, June 3rd 1969, 74 American sailors lost their lives when the ship was split in half by the impact.

But their names were never included on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. 

That may soon change, thanks to a campaign to add the names of those lost to the wall of remembrance. 

Tim Wendler, the son of Ronald Thibodeau, one of the sailors lost on the Evans, says, "At first we thought it was a mistake. Originally my grandfather, my father’s father, had visited the wall and had expected to find him there, and had not."

Only later did Wendler discover that his father's name— and the names of the 73 other sailors lost on the Evans— had not been included because of what he considers "a technicality."

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who is leading the effort in Congress to add the names to the memorial, explains that the Defense Department has criteria for who they recommend to be placed on the wall.

"Those criteria draw an artificial line in the water," Schiff says. "Literally a line where they demarcate the combat zone from areas outside the combat zone."

Technically, the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans was not within the combat zone at the time of the crash. But the crew had participated in the conflict just days before the crash and was scheduled to go back to combat and artillery support after the training exercise.

"The fortuity that the accident took place outside that zone," Schiff says, "Shouldn't preclude these 74 brave sailors from having their names included and the families [from] having the solace that comes from being able to memorialize them in that way."

There's now a House-approved provision in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act urging the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Hagel to add the names of the 74 sailors to the memorial. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week.

If the provision is approved, Tim Wendler says, "it would really be a sense of closure that our country has remembered the sacrifice that these men gave for all of us. And it would be an opportunity to go to Washington and remember him in that way.”