Family still fighting for Vietnam War veteran's recognition

Sailors lost at sea outside of combat zone left off memorial wall

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - Thousands of names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall paying tribute to those who died while fighting for our country, but dozens of families mourn knowing 74 names are missing.

The USS Frank E. Evans crashed during a training exercise in the South China Sea in June of 1969, killing 74 sailors.

Among those lost at sea, 20-year-old Larry Reilly Jr., an engineer who spent much of his time in the bowels of the ship.

Since the crash happened outside the combat zone, the names of the 74 sailors have been left off the wall in Washington.

A survivor aboard the same Navy destroyer, Larry Jr.’s father – retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Larry Reilly Sr., now a Syracuse resident.

“I enjoyed having my son on the ship,” Reilly Sr. shared. “He was a hard worker.”

Reilly Sr., 92, is also a veteran of World War II, but went on to serve in the Vietnam War alongside Larry Jr. and his other son, retired U.S. Navy Lt. Jim Reilly.

“I assumed for many years that Larry was on the wall,” said Lt. Reilly. “It wasn’t until I when to see it for the first time in the late 1990s that I found out that the Evans guys were not on the wall.”

Their father says many young men were drafted for the war, but both Jim and Larry Jr. enlisted on their own.

Military service runs in the blood of the Reilly family with 34 members serving in the armed forces dating all the way back to American Revolutionary War.

“Our family has given a lot and for my brother, he gave all,” Jim Reilly said. “He had a young son who was only a year old so he’s grown up without his dad.”

Reilly says his family has been told there are other reasons for the names not being enshrined on the wall. A few reasons include the cost of adding each name and the space remaining on the wall.

In addition, Reilly says the family recently got word that the USS Frank E. Evans was stripped of its Vietnam Service Medal, a medal awarded during the time of the crash. The family is still awaiting more information on this matter and how it could affect the 74 names being added to the memorial.

To this day, the proper recognition for Larry Jr.’s service means so much to the entire family.

“At least the acknowledgement that they were there and their family knows that they were there and it shows up in print.,” Reilly Sr. said. “It means a lot to all the families.”

Year after year, Reilly family members have written to sitting U.S. Presidents and members of Congress in hopes of seeing the 74 fallen sailors of the USS Frank E. Evans added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

One family in Nebraska lost three sons who were aboard the ship that fateful day. Their parents have since passed away.

“I don’t want my dad to be like them or my mom and never be able to see their son’s names on that wall,” Jim Reilly said.

Today, Sen. Chuck Schumer sent another letter in support of the fight for justice with a message to the Acting Secretary of the Navy.

Schumer’s letter reads as follows:

Dear Acting Secretary Stackley,

I am writing to you, as I have to your predecessor, on behalf of the 74 sailors lost aboard the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans on June 3, 1969. It is my request, and the request of the survivors and the families of the fallen, that they be added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Those aboard were essential to the American military efforts in Vietnam, and their presence in the South China Sea was a directly linked to the war. By withholding their names from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, we are denying the deceased crewmembers of the USS Frank E. Evans proper recognition for their brave and noble service, and closure for their long-suffering families.

Just a few days after it provided fire for ground troops in Vietnamese waters, the U.S.S. 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 – all of whom were likely to return to the conflict after the exercise – were killed in the wreckage. However, because the tragedy was deemed to have taken place outside of the designated combat zone, the crew was ineligible for inclusion on the Vietnamese Veterans Memorial.

For years, surviving crewmembers and relatives of the fallen sailors have struggled to understand why geographical lines supersede recognition of service, particularly when numerous exceptions have been made since the memorial’s construction. Their combat-related service deserves acknowledgment upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, just as it warranted receipt of the Vietnam Service Medal.   

Secretary Mabus remained supportive of this request until the end of his term. I urge you to support the families’request as well. Thank you for your consideration of this request.  If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or my staff.  

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator


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