A World War II and Vietnam veteran who survived a harrowing 1969 Navy ship collision that killed his son, then spent decades fighting to memorialize him, has died at 93.
Retired Master Chief Lawrence Reilly Sr.’s daughter said he died Wednesday at a hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., of complications from pneumonia.
“Our Navy veterans are cherished members of our Navy family, and the sailors who served aboard USS Frank E. Evans are the embodiment of courage, service, and sacrifice,” Navy spokesperson Lt. Marycate Walsh told Fox News.
Reilly and his son, Lawrence Reilly Jr., were aboard the USS Frank E. Evans when the destroyer was cut in half by HMAS Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier, during a training exercise in the South China Sea.
The elder Reilly survived when the ship’s rear half remained afloat. His son and 73 other sailors went down with the forward section.
He later fought unsuccessfully to have the victims’ names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Evans supported ground operations in Vietnam just weeks before it was cut in two.
The Pentagon says the victims weren’t eligible for the Vietnam Memorial because they died outside the designated war zone.
Instead of granting an exemption to the war zone rule, the Pentagon 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.
The decision not to memorialize the sailors angered Reilly Sr.
“I’m not happy with the whole thing,” he said last year. “It’s a bad deal.”
His daughter said a private funeral service will be held Sunday at a Syracuse funeral home.
Her father’s ashes will be placed next to a memorial marker for his son at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, where both father and son served.
“I’m just very sad he didn’t get see the day when they are on the wall,” his daughter, Luanne Oda, said. “But we’re going to keep fighting for it. They deserve it.”
Democrat Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, mentioned Reilly’s death from the chamber’s floor Thursday, and praised the veteran’s efforts on behalf of his lost son and shipmates.
“In his honor, we will continue to pressure the Pentagon to recognize the Frank E. Evans on the Vietnam Memorial,” Schumer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.