Student Fighting for Recognition of Missing Sailors
Iowa Student Wants Names of the “Lost 74” Included on Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — It has been 45 years since 74 American sailors died when their ship was cut in two by an Australian carrier off the coast of Vietnam.
Their names aren’t on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It’s an oversight a young Cedar Falls woman has made it her mission to rectify.
Hannah Ackerman, a student at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, has won history awards for her presentations on two naval disasters. One is the loss of Waterloo’s five Sullivan brothers during World War II. The other is the “missing 74” of the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War.
They were killed in a collision with the HMAS Melbourne June 3, 1969, during a training exercise.
If Ackerman has anything to say about it, the missing 74 will be missing no more from the wall. And she’s had plenty to say on the subject.
She made a presentation to the AMVETS national convention in Memphis, Tennessee, this year.
Both that organization and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have passed resolutions supporting federal legislation to add the Evans crewmen to the wall. That legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate. Similar support resolutions are pending before other veterans groups.
State Sen. Jeff Danielson of Waterloo, a Navy veteran, and state Rep. Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls proposed similar legislation in the Legislature that is still in committee.
Ackerman connected with the Evans crew during their convention in Waterloo in 2011. She performed her one-woman play on the Sullivans, portraying the brothers’ mother, Alleta Sullivan.
Moved by the story of the Evans crew, she crafted a similar play portraying the mother of three sons among the 74 sailors lost on that ship. In doing so, she learned a lot about the Evans’ history, including the fact one of those killed was a relative on her mother’s side — Ronald Arthur Thibodeau.
“I learned about the amazing legacy and the bravery of the 199 survivors and the shocking truth that none of the ‘Lost 74’ names have ever been allowed on the Vietnam Wall,” Ackerman said.
Only the names of soldiers killed by enemy fire and in the war zone are included on the wall. But the sailors aboard the Evans did support combat troops and were headed back to the war zone before the accident occurred.
“So a difference of about 100 miles keeps them from being honored,” Ackerman said. “And there are no boundary lines for heroes, I say.”
John Coffey of Commerce, Georgia, is communications director of the USS Frank E. Evans Association. He served on the ship, though not at the time of the disaster. He said the group is grateful for Ackerman’s efforts.
“Hannah’s been a great influence everywhere she’s been,” Coffey said. “She’s opened eyes. She’s been working hard for us.”
The cause becomes more imperative with the passage of time.
“It’s very important to them, their families. Some of us are dying off,” Coffey said. “I’m 70. Those of us who are in our 60s and 70s really want to get this done.”
Navy veteran Larry Webb of Cedar Falls did not serve on the Evans but lost a friend in the disaster. Webb said he and many people working on the project are heartened by Ackerman’s efforts.
“It’s just really special for her to pick up the torch and realize what an important cause it is,” Webb said.
The U.S. Department of Defense has final say on adding names to the Vietnam Wall.
The nonbinding proposal passed by the U.S. House urges Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, himself a Vietnam veteran, to honor the names of the Evans dead.
“Heroism and sacrifice should never go unrecognized by an arbitrary line on a map,” states the resolution proposed by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California.
It notes Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus supports the addition, and President Ronald Reagan in 1983 ordered a similar action regarding 68 Marines who died in a flight outside the Vietnam combat zone. When the Senate takes up the bill, Ackerman will find a receptive ear from a senator living a few miles west of her home.
“The friends and descendants of the sailors who gave their lives on the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans have strong views on including the sailors’ names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” said Iowa U.S.
Sen. Charles Grassley. “Secretary Hagel should give the request full consideration.”
Information from: Waterloo- Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com