A 1,550-mile bike ride to fight for more names on the Vietnam memorial, with an assist from a congressman
Del Francis, 74, biked from his home in Sulphur Springs, Texas, to the U.S. Capitol in his quest to have 74 names added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Del Francis passed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on the National Mall on Monday, but wouldn’t stop. The names of the 74 sailors he served with on the destroyer Frank E. Evans aren’t there.
“I don’t consider it complete, and I consider it a disservice to the 74 men. They deserve to be on the wall with their brothers. They died just like the rest of them,” he said.
The 74-year-old veteran completed a 1,550-mile bicycle journey from his home in Sulphur Springs, Texas, to the U.S. Capitol on Monday. The 74-day trip was to draw attention to the omission, and to the Department of Defense review of an appeal of its denial to add the names.
The Long Beach-based Navy destroyer Frank E. Evans sank on June 3, 1969, after colliding with the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne during a training exercise. Because the accident happened outside the war zone, the victims don’t meet the official criteria to be included on the memorial.
The Evans provided cover fire off the shore of Vietnam before it was dispatched to the South China Sea for the training exercise, and was scheduled to return to the war zone afterward.
Some of the 204 crash survivors and family members of the men who died have pushed for decades to get the sailors’ names on the wall, including a decade of legislative attempts by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
Congress is in recess, and Schiff says he has pneumonia, but he joined Francis for the last few miles of his bike ride.
“If this was worth pursuing 10 years ago, it’s worth pursuing now,” Schiff said. “It’s become personal and I’m determined to do all I can until their names are on the wall.”
Schiff added an amendment to a 2014 Defense spending bill that urged the Defense Department to add the names. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.Y.) joined Schiff in pushing the department to make an exception. In May, the Defense Department announced it would review its decision not to add the names to the wall, though it hasn’t said when the review will be complete.
If it does decide to include the names, it wouldn’t be the first time the department made an exception for people who died outside the war zone. In 1983, the Pentagon approved adding the names of 58 Marines who were killed when their C-130 transport plane crashed outside Hong Kong. Though they were outside the war zone when they died, the plane was returning them to Vietnam after three days of leave.
Tim Wendler, a 49-year-old Pasadena resident, was 2 years old when his father, radar man Ron Thibodeau, died on the Evans. He originally brought the issue to Schiff’s attention. He said by phone that the Defense Department review makes him hopeful the names will be added to the wall.
“We just want them to be remembered along with the others who sacrificed in the war,” he said. “My father and these 73 other men really should be up there.”
Francis, who rode 1,550 miles in hopes the men will be remembered on the wall, left his hometown on the anniversary of the day the Evans sank.
“I turned 74 in May, and I just decided that it was time to do something just out of frustration,” Francis said.
A dozen crash survivors and family of the men who died in 1969 traveled to Washington to greet the bikers in the 100-degree heat.
“These families had no bodies to bury, they had nothing,” Francis said. “Give them something. Families have driven clear across the country to see their son’s name on the wall only to find out it’s not there.”
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