Published May 23, 2017
The Pentagon on Sunday refused a request to add the names of 74 U.S. sailors who died in a 1969 ship collision to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
Survivors and relatives of those killed have been pushing the Defense Department for years to add the 74 names to the wall because the ship had supported ground operations in Vietnam just weeks earlier and would have been sent back to the war zone after the exercise.
But Pentagon officials in a decision this month stuck to their position that the USS Frank E. Evans victims are precluded from being added to the wall because the accident occurred outside the Vietnam combat zone. The ship turned into the path of an Australian aircraft carrier and was split in half.
Instead of granting an exemption to the war zone rule, the Pentagon has offered to pay tribute to the fallen sailors by listing their names on a memorial plaque to be placed inside the education center to be built near the wall. But with less than half of the $130 million cost of the center raised so far, the offer is being dismissed by some Evans survivors.
It was a decision that angered retired Navy Master Chief Lawrence Reilly Sr., an Evans survivor whose 20-year-old son, also named Lawrence, was among those killed.
"I'm not happy with the whole thing," the 92-year-old WWII and Vietnam veteran said from his Syracuse home. "It's a bad deal."
The Pentagon's latest rejection came after the Evans survivors pinned their hopes on Navy records that the group said showed the ship had been awarded a Vietnam Service Medal for June 2, 1969, a day before the accident. The medal was only given to ships and sailors who served in the Vietnam combat zone. But the Navy's review of its records last fall determined there was no documentation to support such a claim.
The Evans sailors "do not meet the established criteria for the inscription of their names on the wall," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said. "The deputy secretary of defense extensively reviewed information and records to make an informed decision."
The Evans veterans say the Pentagon has previously granted exceptions to the eligibility criteria for adding names to the memorial, including for dozens of Marines who were killed when the plane carrying them back to Vietnam from leave in Hong Kong crashed during takeoff.
The Evans group's effort has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who got involved two years ago on behalf of the four sailors from his state who died in the collision.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.