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L.A. Daily News: Add Evens sailors’ names to the wall

Los Angeles Daily News

First Published Jul 28 2014 10:29 am • Last Updated Jul 28 2014 04:33 pm

When is it a war game and when is it really just a war?

How about when dozens of American sailors are killed in the maneuvering, as 74 aboard the destroyer the USS Frank E. Evans were on the morning of June 3, 1969? The Evans had been deployed as part of the Vietnam War effort. Just weeks before, its guns had been shelling the Viet Cong near Da Nang. The tragic morning the sailors died, the Evans was off the Vietnam coast when the Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier, accidentally rammed it, tearing it in half.

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In what way, precisely, was this incident not part of the Vietnam War? Well, according to the Pentagon, in some way that has kept those 74 names off the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

This is a bureaucratic abomination that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has long sought to cure after hearing about the Evans for years from constituent Tim Wendler of Pasadena. Wendler was a baby when his father, Thibodeau, died on the Evans. When he visits the hallowed wall in Washington, he can’t understand why his father’s name is not on it.

Neither can we. And so we share Schiff’s and Wendler’s hope that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — the third secretary Schiff has lobbied on this issue — will agree to put the names of the 74 sailors on the wall. There also is legislation to do so — the House approved an amendment to add the names in its version of the Defense Authorization Bill, though the Senate has yet to take action on its bill. But the first defense secretary to have himself served, as an enlisted man, in Vietnam, Hagel could make the call to add the names without waiting for congressional approval. (So could the president.) Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has indicated his support. So what’s the holdup?

Several issues have historically stood in the way. When the accident happened, President Nixon had just ordered the first large wave of troops sent home from Vietnam, and the last thing he wanted was a report of 74 dead in one war-related incident. There are always worries that adding more names to the wall would open up the cases of other service members who happened to die during the Vietnam period. But the Evans case stands alone. These sailors died in the combat-related service of their country off the coast of Vietnam, and their names should be on the wall.




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