A bill that passed the House in May would add the names of 74 sailors’ to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The names of these so-called “Lost 74” have never been engrained into the memorial because their ship was technically outside of the war zone when it sunk.
Navy destroyer Frank E. Evans sank in the South China Sea on June 3, 1969 when it was cut in half after a collision with an Australian aircraft carrier before a training exercise. Most of the crew was asleep at the time of the collision. “As soon as it got hit, it rolled over on its side” said Larry Reilly, a master chief gunner’s mate who was aboard the ship when it sank.
A joint U.S.-Australian investigation into the collision found the Evans to be responsible but said the Australian ship was also partly to blame.
The ship had initially been providing supporting gunfire for U.S. troops in Vietnam before being called out of the war zone to assist in the training exercise, according to the families of the sailors. They say it would have returned to the fighting had it not sunk.
“We’re just trying to get recognition for out brothers. It’s long overdue” said Roy “Pete” Peters, a machinist’s mate who was aboard the ship when it sank. Peters doesn’t buy the excuse that it was outside of the official war zone. “That’s an arbitrary line that was drawn in the water” he said.
Efforts to get the sailors’ names on the memorial have been ongoing since 2001, but have failed every time. A National Park Service representative said during a 2003 hearing on the issue that “adding a large number of new names to the memorial wall would detract from the power and beauty of the simple black granite wall that evokes such a strong emotional response in visitors.”
The bill would ultimately require Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s approval, something that his two predecessors have failed to do. However the sailors’ families are hopeful that this time will be different. Hagel himself is a Vietnam veteran and a former senator from Nebraska, home to three sailors’ who died in the collision.
Since the memorial’s dedication in 1982, 361 names have been added. In 1983 the names of 58 Marines were added to the wall. They had been killed when their C-130 transport plane crashed outside of Hong Kong, which was also outside of the official war zone.
“The reason that this is so important to me is that our country looks at the wall as verification that a person was involved in the war,” Peters said, “My brothers’ names belong up there with all the others.”