The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a wall on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to memorialize the 58,000 men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War by engraving their names on the wall for all to see. Every day, people from across the world come to pay their respects for those who fought and died for the freedoms we all hold dear. While hundreds of names have been added since it was built, the memorial still does not include the “Lost 74” –74 sailors who perished 50 years ago today in the sinking of the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War. The honor and gratitude owed to them is long overdue.
After serving multiple tours off the coast of Vietnam, the USS Frank E. Evans was sent to participate in a nearby training exercise. During practice maneuvers on June 3, 1969, the ship collided with an aircraft carrier and sank, killing 74 sailors who were aboard the ship. Each of these service members were deployed and died in the service of our nation, yet their names have been left off the Vietnam Memorial wall.
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While the incident occurred about 100 miles outside of the official combat zone, the ship and a majority of the deceased sailors had previously provided naval gunfire off the coast of Vietnam, including during the Tet Offensive. The ship was also set to return to combat after the exercise, and the other ships in the Evans group returned to Vietnamese waters following the exercise.
During one of my radio town halls last year, a family member of Richard Grant, a North Dakota resident and survivor of the USS Frank E. Evans disaster, approached me about the issue. I was deeply moved by the story, and I introduced an amendment to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act to inscribe the names of the 74 sailors to the memorial. While the measure unanimously passed the House, it failed to pass the Senate.
Despite this setback, the bill’s passage in the House helped boost momentum for this effort in Congress and around the country. One of my first bills as a U.S. senator was the reintroduction of the USS Frank E. Evans Act with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Since its introduction, we have gained broad bipartisan support, including from Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Shelley Moore-Capito, R-W.V.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; and the list of supporters continues to grow.
Some have asked about the time, effort and design necessary to add 74 names to the Vietnam Memorial. While I understand the logistical headache some in Washington think this may cause, I know it is worth it. I am confident that service and sacrifice of these sailors is worth memorializing. Doing the right thing by honoring the sacrifices of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who have laid down their lives to protect our nation is more important than the objections of Washington’s bureaucracy. Just like the nearly 60,000 people who died in Vietnam, these 74 heroes left home to give their country their all, and they did not return. My colleagues and I stand with the “Lost 74” as we fight to make sure their names are lost no more.