After the story on the local TV News, our local newspaper contacted my dad to do a follow–up story on the efforts to recognize the names of the 74 men lost onboard the USS Frank E. Evans. The reporter Stephanie Weldy did a really nice job on story. You can read a copy of the article here.
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:
I’ve written about Francis Theodore Thomas in the past – see “The Missing Thomas” -but I have chosen him again because I’ve learned more about him since the last post, largely in part because I connected with my 2nd cousin, 1x removed, Paul. He had some photos and a letter from my great-grandfather, Gerald Thomas, that filled in some of the details about Francis Theodore Thomas.
In 1905, he was living at 172 Miller Avenue with his wife Anna and his oldest two children, Gerald [age 3] and May [age 2]. There were six other families living in the building, which stands the block of Miller Avenue between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue. He was working as a shirt ironer, and at 24 years old, was supporting his family of four.3
According to the letter my great-grandfather wrote to my grandmother and her sister, Francis met my 2nd great-grandmother through her brother, Walter Noteboom, Jr. He was an orphan by the time they met, and “she felt sorry for him”. They were married in 1901 against her father’s wishes, and she became estranged from her family for several years as a result.4
When things happened…
My 2nd great-grandmother Anna always referred to 1906 as the time when things happened. In August 1906, Francis went to Rockaway Beach for a swim and never came home. No body was every found, nor were any of his belongings. He went to get his paycheck, and then to the beach. After things happened, the family didn’t talk about it much and Anna was left to raise three children, ages 5 and under, on her own. She borrowed money from the local butcher, and took to cleaning houses and washing clothes to make ends meet. It was only after Francis disappeared did she reconcile with her father.5
Not much is known about Francis’s family. Gerald writes in the letter that he had a brother William, who was murdered on the Brooklyn waterfront. His sister Kate married Thomas Bouse, and Mae married Jack Gardner. His mother’s maiden name was Fredericks, and she had a sister who married a Captain Hall, who served during the U.S. Civil War. He is buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. His father is said to have ancestors who were Pennsylvania Quakers.6
- Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: New York, State Census, 1905. Population Schedules . New York State Archives, Albany, New York. State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 21 E.D. 19; City: Brooklyn; County: Kings, Page 48. ↩
- Ancestry.com. Devine-Thomas Family Tree. Posted by pxdbrewer. ↩
- Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1905. ↩
- Letter from Gerald Thomas to Marion Reilly and Ethel Furia, photocopy in my collection, original unknown, April-May 1979. ↩
- ibid. ↩
- ibid. ↩
Today, January 8, 2015, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the battle, fought from December 23, 1814 to January 8, 1815. It was the last important battle of the War of 1812, occurring after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 (but before the treaty was ratified by both governments in February 1815).2
All of this is to set the background of a song that played a significant role in my childhood. When my father was overseas in the US Navy, he picked up several LPs, including Johnny Horton’s album. It was made from a semi-translucent red plastic, and probably was meant to last more that a few dozen plays. My family defied physics and played that album over and over and over again!
It was a favorite of ours, mostly because the tunes on the album were catchy, and some were slightly silly, and all were easy to remember the lyrics and sing along to (though no one really wants to listen to a Reilly sing). In some ways, this song was one of the theme songs of my life, and had a funny way of popping up again and again.
The first time the song showed up unexpectedly I was a junior in college at NYU, studying Journalism. I was taking a class taught by Mitchell Stephens about the History of American Journalism. We were discussing how news traveled during the War of 1812, and the popular belief that the Battle of New Orleans took place after the treaty was signed because the news had not reached the combatants in time to stop the battle. Out of the blue, Professor Stephens asked if anyone was familiar with the song The Battle of New Orleans. Without really thinking, I raised my hand, surprised at the question. He then asked me to sing it! I wasn’t about to embarrass myself by singing in front of the entire class, but I did recite the lyrics (see box). I also offered to bring in my Johnny Horton CD to the next class to play the song for the class. (Yes – I had bought a CD of the album once I had gone off to college. It helped deal with the homesickness of being almost 3000 miles away from home.)
The second time the song caught me by surprise was the night I first introduced the man who was to become my husband to my family. It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I brought him home for dinner at the end of the summer before I returned to college for my final year. I don’t remember now how it came up in conversation, but all of a sudden my entire family simultaneously broke out singing the song, including my mom! I remember thinking, “Oh my, he’s never going to want to go out with me again!”. Fortunately, he’s a good sport, and thought it was funny, if a little weird.
To hear the song for yourself, view this YouTube video:
- The Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_New_Orleans, Modified 18 Dec 2014, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. ↩
- Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_New_Orleans, Modified 2 Jan 2015, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. ↩
For 2015, Julie Goucher of Angler’s Rest, is reinventing her Book of Me as a series of monthly prompts. For the first prompt of the year, she writes:
Prompt 1 – January 2015 – Genealogical Plantation
Imagine you are planting trees that represent your family history.
- What trees would you plant?
- What part of your family are represented by a specific tree.
- Why is that the case? – location, image, name?
Share your vision with us, perhaps if you are artistic you could draw your plantation.
Explore the ancestors and family members you are presenting. Illustrate with pictures and bring your genealogical plantation to life.
To me, I’ve always pictured by family tree as a giant oak – the gnarled branches curving up and outwards, strong enough to hold up the many family members deep within the canopy of its leaves. The branches spread far and wide, provide shade to those beneath them and are great for climbing! I love the image of a giant oak canopy cradling all my ancestors in its nooks and crannies.
But in addition to the oak, there are other plants in the garden that remind me more of my family. When I think of gardens, I really think about my mother’s side of the family. My Pappaw grew up in rural Mississippi, just south of Memphis, during the depression. During his childhood, they were largely sustenance farmers – whatever they could grow, they would eat. During the Depression, this actually allowed them to fare better than my Mammaw’s family, who lived in the big city and struggled more to make ends meet.
When I was growing up, we didn’t spend much time with my mother’s family – distance and estrangement largely kept us apart. However, the times I do remember, the things I remember about my grandfather almost all have to do with growing something. One of my earliest memories was of a visit we made to Memphis when I was about 4 years old, and we shucked beans on the porch. I also have a great fondness for tomato sandwiches, which my mother passed down from her father. He would take fresh tomatoes from the garden, slice them up and sandwich them between two pieces of toast with a little mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Yummy!
Recently my aunt Penny sent me a green garden wagon that my grandfather used to use. He would pull my mother and aunt around in that wagon while he worked in the garden. I have been planning for some time to turn that wagon into a memorial planter for my mother, Pappaw and Mammaw, all three of whom I lost within a year of each other in 1999-2000. I asked her what some of their favorite plants were, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my favorite flower, the peony, listed among those that Mammaw and Pappaw loved. During my mother’s 5 year battle with breast cancer, she collected angel pins that she would pin to the caps that she covered her head with. Anytime I came across a design of a pin that she didn’t already have, I would buy it for her. So my vision for the memorial planter is beautiful pink peonies surrounded by impatiens and ivy, with an angel watching over it – flowers from my grandparents and an angel from my mom. Below is a rough sketch of what I’m picturing: