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74 Sailors Died In 1969 Collision In South China Sea; For Years, DOD Has Unjustly Refused To Add Their Names To Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Schumer Has Worked For Years And Pursued All Avenues To Include Names Of Fallen Crew Of U.S.S. Frank E. Evans As Combat-Related Deaths

Schumer: Half A Century Is Too Long, Give Fallen Heroes Of U.S.S. Frank E. Evans – Who Gave The Ultimate Sacrifice For America – The Recognition They Deserve

Following half a decade of unrelenting advocacy and with Memorial Day at the end of this month, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today seeks to pass S. 849, bipartisan legislation to add the names of 74 Americans, including several with ties to the Empire State, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. Schumer explained that these Americans bravely served their country during the Vietnam War and died tragically in a Vietnam War-related training exercise while deployed in the South China Sea.

On June 3, 1969, the USS Frank E. Evans was cut in half after it collided with an Australian aircraft carrier during a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea. Seventy-four American sailors killed in the wreckage. However, because the tragedy took place outside of an officially-designated combat zone, the crew has continuously been deemed ineligible for inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Schumer said that these geographical lines should not supersede recognition when it comes to service and advocated for years to have the names of these crewmembers properly enshrined on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in order to honor their memory, bravery and service.

“For almost 51 years, bureaucratic technicalities and geographical lines have superseded these sailors’ sacrifice and service, and left 74 families wondering if their loved ones would ever receive their just recognition,” said Senator Schumer. “It is unthinkable that we are still denying individuals who bravely served this county and paid the ultimate sacrifice the proper recognition that they deserve. I have pushed the Department of Defense for half a decade to add these names to the memorial and am now pushing legislation through the Senate, and I will not rest until the friends and family of these 74 brave souls are able to see their names engraved on that wall where they belong.”

In 2016, Schumer visited the homes of the families of Terry Lee Henderson and Larry Reilly Jr., who both lost their lives aboard the ship during the accident. During these visits, Schumer heard directly from family members about their struggles since the 1969 accident and their advocacy on behalf of their loved ones. “It’s been more than half a century,” said Randy Henderson, Terry Lee Henderson’s brother. “We’ve been working on this for so long, and Senator Schumer has been with us on this for a long time now. Most of the parents of the 74 have died. I’m fortunate enough that my mom is still here. I want her to be able to see his name on that wall. It’s time for Terry and his 73 shipmates to receive the honor they deserve.” Additionally, Chief Larry Reilly Sr., was a survivor of the accident that killed his son. Schumer met with him in his Syracuse-area living room and discussed his son’s life and the accident itself. When Chief Reilly died in 2018, Schumer paid tribute to him with a speech on the Senate floor.  

Schumer’s bipartisan push is the latest in a long line of actions taken to ensure the proper recognition for the Frank E. Evans crew. Previous efforts include calling on multiple Navy Secretaries and Defense Secretaries to administratively act and add the names of the 74 sailors. Schumer also introduced an amendment to the 2016 NDAA that would have given these sailors their rightful place on the Vietnam War Memorial wall and has pushed for its inclusion in every defense bill since.

Schumer said there were four crewmembers on the ship who were born in NY and lost in the accident in 1969. Schumer said these men are included in the list of 74 sailors he is pushing to have engraved in the Vietnam Memorial Wall. They include: James Franklin Bradly, born in New York, NY; Terry Lee Henderson, born in Buffalo, NY; Dennis Ralph Johnston, born in Tarrytown, NY; and John Townsend Norton, born in Brooklyn, NY.