A group of senators asked the secretary of defense to meet with them as part of their bipartisan effort to add the names of the “Lost 74” sailors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The USS Frank E. Evans, a naval destroyer that had just completed a combat tour off Vietnam’s coast and was scheduled to return, sank during a training exercise in June 1969. Seventy-four sailors drowned, and only one body was recovered. For decades, survivors and families have fought to add the names of the perished sailors to the iconic granite wall in Washington, D.C. But the Pentagon opposes the effort since the incident occurred over 100 miles outside the designated Vietnam War theater.
But a dozen senators from both parties sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday asking to meet with him to end the Pentagon’s resistance.
“The Defense Department has a mixed, if not negative, record with regards to honoring the names of those who died in the sinking of the USS Frank E. Evans by adding them to the Vietnam Memorial Wall,” GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who helped lead the effort as a congressman and now as a freshman senator, told the Washington Examiner. “Bureaucrats and middlemen have stood in the way, offering excuses each time. We hope to personally convey the Lost 74’s case to Secretary Esper and gain his support.”
The letter to Esper was signed by six Republican senators — Cramer, Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Michael Rounds of South Dakota, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Six Democrats signed on as well: Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
“We write to request a meeting with you to discuss adding the names of the 74 sailors lost aboard the USS Frank E. Evans on June 3, 1969 to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The legacy of these brave Americans, the ‘Lost 74,’ should no longer go unrecognized due to an arbitrary line on a map,” the group told Esper. “Last year marked 50 years since we lost these 74 sailors. Honoring the sacrifice of these 74 sailors alongside the nearly 60,000 other service members who died in Vietnam is long overdue.”