It was the early morning hours of June 3, 1969, when the USS Frank E. Evans and HMAS Melbourne collided, severing the American destroyer in half.
But the fact that the crash occurred 12 miles from the designated combat zone in Vietnam has kept the U.S. Department of Defense from allowing the names of those who perished on the USS Evans to be memorialized.
“The families found out by accident, by visiting the memorial and not seeing their family members listed, which is a terrible way to find out you were slighted, so we want to correct this wrong,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman, who asked to have the issue on the agenda.
Every June 3 since 2003, survivors and family members have gathered in Long Beach, the final port of the USS Evans, to remember their loved ones.
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to place the sailors’ names on the memorial has already passed the House of Representatives and awaits a Senate vote. Hagel is the first Vietnam War veteran to serve in the top defense post.
At their Tuesday meeting, the Glendale City Council voted unanimously to do their part by drafting a letter to the U.S. Defense Department, and they were thanked by family members of two victims of the USS Evans tragedy.
Tim Wendler lost his father, Richard Thibodeau, while Fred Kerr’s older brother, Glendale native Jim Kerr, was also killed.
Kerr said he was in the middle of history class at Hoover High School 45 years ago when he received the news about his brother.
“Tim’s dad and Jim lost the lives they had that day and the life they never got to live,” Kerr said.
Councilman Frank Quintero, a Vietnam War veteran, recalled two men from his platoon who were killed in action and their names are on the Vietnam memorial.
He said, in his mind, he doesn’t think they would object to having the sailors’ names join them on the monument.
“I’m sure they’d be happy to welcome your brother and these other sailors on that wall,” Quintero said.
Follow Arin Mikailian on Twitter: @ArinMikailian.