Honoring the 'Lost 74': Bill seeks to add sailors killed in shipwreck to Vietnam Veterans Memorial
FARGO — Sens. Kevin Cramer and Kirsten Gillibrand are aiming to memorialize the 74 crew members who died when the USS Frank E. Evans destroyer sank in 1969 during the Vietnam War.
They proposed this month the USS Frank E. Evans Act, which would add the names of the 74 crew members to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the wall that lists more than 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War.
Cramer, R-N.D., was approached by a family member of Richard Grant, a Fargo resident and veteran who survived the wreck. Grant's son-in-law raised the issue with Cramer directly on Talk Radio Town Hall hosted by Scott Hennen.
“It made no sense to me that a ship of sailors who had just left the combat zone and was going to return to the combat zone, and in the meantime doing exercises in preparation for war, aren’t worthy of being memorialized,” Cramer said.
The Pentagon turned down a 2017 petition to list the victims on the wall, maintaining that they do not qualify because the collision happened outside of the Vietnam combat zone.
“Objections come from the bureaucracy,” Cramer said. “We need senators and representatives to feel more pressure from home than they do from the bureaucracy.”
He said he hopes veteran groups, as well as other members of Congress, will get behind the effort that's been gradually accumulating support for three decades.
"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the extraordinary sacrifices made by our Vietnam War heroes, but there are still 74 names missing from the iconic black wall," Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
With the 50th anniversary of the June 3, 1969, wreck fast approaching, survivors continue to remind legislators to honor the victims, known as the "Lost 74." Richard Grant is one of the 199 survivors of the Evans wreck that occurred after a collision with another ship in the South China Sea.
"We had recently left the war zone and were on friendly maneuvers with the Australian and New Zealand navies," Grant said in a letter to the editor published in The Forum in April 2018. "Our ship was cut in half and the bow half of the ship sank in five minutes and took 74 sailors to their death."
Cramer, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., along with other legislators, supported a similar amendment added to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. It passed in the House but not the Senate, and was stripped from the final version of the bill.
“It was squashed,” Cramer said. “‘No’ is the default answer. That’s the best excuse I can give you for why it didn’t prevail in the Senate and the conference committee.”