This post is diverges from my usual genealogical posts in some ways, and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read it.
My uncle and my grandfather (Larry Reilly Sr. & Jr.) both were onboard the USS Frank E. Evans in 1969 when it collided with the Australian aircraft carrier, HMS Melbourne. The USS Evans was a destroyer, and was cleaved in two by the Melbourne. The forward section of the ship sank, taking the lives of 74 men, including my uncle, with it. The aft portion of the ship stayed afloat. My uncle was on duty as a boiler tender 3rd class in a section of the ship near the site of the impact. It is presumed that he was killed instantly with the collision. Only one of the 74 bodies was ever recovered. The other 73 rest for eternity at the bottom of the South China Sea. My grandfather was a Chief, sleeping in a forward bunk. When the collision occurred, he had to make is way through a ship rapidly filling with water, as it turned on its side, and navigate through debris. He finally made it to a hatch, and was able to escape shortly before the ship went under. At first, my family did not know which of the two was missing and presumed dead – as they shared the same name except for the suffix. My father, who was also in the Navy at the time, heard from a friend in the Pentagon and asked for the rank. It was then that he knew it was his younger brother. He called his mom to tell her that her second son was gone.
The tragedy of that night was shared by many family, including the Sage family of Nebraska, who lost three sons that night – brothers who had received permission to serve aboard the destroyer together. Gregory, Gary & Kelly Sage left behind a mother, a father, a younger brother, and one wife.
But the tragedy did not end there. When the Vietnam War Memorial was erected, the names of these 74 men, who sacrificed their lives for their country, were left off. At the time of the collision, the destroyer had just left the gun line to participate in a international training exercise as part of the coordinated war effort. They were mere miles outside the combat zone, and were scheduled to return to the gun line upon the conclusion of the training exercise. Their deaths were not classified as casualties of war – at the time, President Richard Nixon did not want to tell the American people that we had lost another 74 lives in Vietnam in one day.
Since the erection of the Vietnam War Memorial, the families and friends of the lost 74 have been fighting to have their names added to the Wall. Now we are being told that money is needed to make it happen. It costs $3500 a name and with 74 names, it will cost $259,000. My cousin, Larry III, has started a gofundme campaign. All donations will be given directly to the Vietnam War Memorial Fund in order to facilitate the addition of these names to the wall.
Please consider donating to this cause. The families of all 74 would greatly appreciate your support in helping to right this wrong.
For more information about the USS Frank E. Evans:
- USS Frank E. Evans Association
- American Boys, by Louise Esola. This is an award winning book about the 74 men and their shipmates. Chapter 3, “Chief Dad”, is about my family.
- GoFundMe Campaign
- USS Frank E. Evans DD-754 Horizontal Annotated