After an effort to add the names of 74 sailors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial hit a roadblock in the Senate, supporters of inscribing the names of the men who died aboard the USS Frank E. Evans are continuing to press for their inclusion.
In a letter dated Monday, Memorial Day, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), called on Senate leaders to pass a bill that would add the to the war memorial in Washington despite opposition from the Department of Defense and others. Their objection, in part, is because the deaths of the men on the Navy destroyer in June 1969 occurred outside an official combat zone.
As the nation marks Memorial Day, honoring those who died while serving in the military, “the sailors aboard the Frank E. Evans are no exception — they were true patriots, who served with honor and distinction during the Vietnam War,” Booker said. Adding their names to the wall “not only honors their courage and sacrifice, but also provides their families with the recognition these sailors deserve from our eternally grateful nation.”
The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D.-W.Va.), the chairperson and ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources committee.
During a committee hearing earlier this month, Murkowski voiced opposition to the bill. “We will find a way to honor these sailors, but at this juncture, there remain practical, legal and technical considerations that we have to resolve,” she said, calling it “unfortunate” that criteria set by the Department of Defense did not accommodate inclusion of the names on the memorial.
The debate over honoring the sailors who died when their ship struck an Australian aircraft carrier during a warfare exercise and sank 125 miles from the combat zone has been a yearslong saga. Family and surviving crew members of the Frank E. Evans have fought to add their names to the memorial, arguing that the men who died on the ship — which provided naval gunfire support during the Vietnam War — deserve to be remembered alongside more than 58,000 U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in the war.
Among the 74 were Patrick Corcoran, 19, from Philadelphia’s Torresdale section; five other Pennsylvanians, and Earl Preston Jr. of Gladstone in Somerset County, N.J.
“They wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for the war,” Tom Corcoran Jr. of Langhorne, Patrick’s brother, told The Inquirer in 2018. “Our government won’t chisel 74 names on that piece of granite. It’s an absolute disgrace. … It’s just wrong.”
But the Department of Defense has said that the collision took place outside the combat zone, and that the wall also lacks available space. It also has said adding the names would require it to consider other such cases, instead offering to put the names on a plaque in a proposed nearby education center.
Although the National Park Service has at times added names to the wall that the Defense Department has determined to be eligible, space constraints mean that adding the 74 “would necessitate substantial modification, and possibly a wholesale replacement” of the wall, P. Daniel Smith, the park service’s deputy director, said last year in a statement.
“Nobody objects to this, except the people who would have to do something about it,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), the sponsor of the USS Frank E. Evans Act, said during a May 14 committee hearing.
The USS Frank E. Evans Association, led by one of the 199 crew members who survived the collision, said on its website that “it is difficult to imagine that a select few continue to believe an imaginary line in the water can be used to distinguish between those that deserve recognition and those that do not.”
While a previous legislative effort failed to add the names to the wall through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, Booker said in his letter he had again filed an amendment for inclusion in the NDAA package.
More than 50 years have passed since the 74 sailors died, Booker said, and “if we do not make good on the promise to honor them soon, the few remaining family members still alive today may never have the opportunity to see their loved one honored” on the memorial wall.
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer