CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Remembering those lost at sea. A group of survivors paid tribute to the fallen who perished in the 1969 USS Frank E. Evans crash.
The accident claimed the lives of 74 sailors when their ship was destroyed after colliding with an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. This happened during the War in Vietnam, but the names of those men do not appear on the wall in our nation’s capital, but there’s a fight to make it happen.
Del Francis, a survivor, said, “There’s no question that these men should be on the wall until the dying day until they’re on that wall”
Ken Norton, the brother of fallen sailor John Townsend Norton, said, “We’re aggravated, we have been fighting for so long now to get these names on the wall and they deserve it.”
In the early morning hours of June 2nd, 1969, during an exercise, the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans was virtually cut in half when an Australian aircraft carrier hit the U.S. Navy destroyer.
Out of the 273 sailors were on board, 74 died – including 3 brothers from Nebraska, and Buffalo native Terry Lee Henderson.
Francis was sleeping during the crash, and successfully escaped the wreckage before it sank to the ocean floor. He said, “The smell was like an acetylene torch cutting through metal, it smelled like metal burning” He added, “The crash was tremendous, the sound was just unbearable.”
Every year, the survivors, and the families of the fallen meet up for a reunion.
“I’ve lost 1 brother but I gained 199 that survived”, said Norton.
The 2016 get together was held in Cheektowaga. The mother and brother of Buffalo native Terry Lee Henderson were in attendance.
Mary Ann Buettner, the mother of Henderson, said, “I think it’s one of the most wonderful things to happen when these people come every year.”
Henderson’s brother, Randy, says it has been a struggle to get recognition for these men. “The association has been trying to get these gentlemen on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall it’s always failed someplace along the way, there has been some resistance from the defense department.”
For now, the reunion, which is in its 24th year helps keep the survivors and the families of the victims connected, and it offers them a sense of healing.
“Because they too have lost someone, it’s like you are just one big family, and a lot of these gentleman have served on the same ship and they have all been wonderful.”, said Buettner.
The names are not on the wall because the accident happened outside of the defined combat zone when the ship was participating in an exercise.
Right now, the USS Frank E. Evans Association says Senator Charles Schumer is helping them get the names on the memorial.
For more information on the USS Frank E Evans Association, go to: www.ussfee.com