Saturday, May 16, 2020

Seventy-Four Names...

U.S. Navy SH-3A Sea King helicopters from USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) join search and rescue operations over the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754), as USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) stands ready to offer assistance (at right) on 2 June 1969. HMS Cleopatra (F28) is also present. USS Frank E. Evans was cut in two in a collision with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21) during SEATO exercises in the South China Sea.
(US Navy Photo)

There is a bill in the Senate to add seventy-four names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, S.849 - U.S.S. Frank E. Evans Act, which you can read for yourself here. This bill was talked about in the Senate on the 14th of May, which you can read in the Congressional Record for 14 May starting on page S2439 (far right column, top). (The PDF for that day can be read here.) The bill has strong bipartisan support. Why has this not passed? Read the Record, decide for yourselves.
On the night of 2–3 June, HMAS Melbourne (R21) and her escorts were involved in anti-submarine training exercises. In preparation for launching a Grumman S-2 Tracker aircraft, Stevenson ordered USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) to the plane guard station, reminded the destroyer of Melbourne's course, and instructed the carrier's navigational lights to be brought to full brilliance. This was the fourth time that USS Frank E. Evans had been asked to assume this station that night, and the previous three maneuvers had been without incident. Evans was positioned on HMAS Melbourne's port bow, but began the maneuver by turning starboard, towards the carrier. A radio message was sent from HMAS Melbourne to USS Frank E. Evans's bridge and Combat Information Center, warning the destroyer that she was on a collision course, which USS Frank E. Evans acknowledged. Seeing the destroyer take no action and on a course to place herself under HMAS Melbourne's bow, Stevenson ordered the carrier hard to port, signalling the turn by both radio and siren blasts. At approximately the same time, USS Frank E. Evans turned hard to starboard to avoid the approaching carrier. It is uncertain which ship began to maneuver first, but each ship's bridge crew claimed that they were informed of the other ship's turn after they commenced their own. After having narrowly passed in front of HMAS Melbourne, the turns quickly placed USS Frank E. Evans back in the carrier's path. HMAS Melbourne hit USS Frank E. Evans amidships at 3:15 am, cutting the destroyer in two.
HMAS Melbourne stopped immediately after the collision and deployed her boats, life rafts and lifebuoys, before carefully maneuvering alongside the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans. Sailors from both ships used mooring lines to lash the two ships together, allowing HMAS Melbourne to evacuate the survivors in that section. The bow section sank quickly; the majority of those killed were believed to have been trapped within. Members of HMAS Melbourne's crew dived into the water to rescue overboard survivors close to the carrier, while the carrier's boats and helicopters collected those farther out. Clothing, blankets and beer were provided to survivors from the carrier's stores, some RAN sailors offered their own uniforms, and the ship's band was instructed to set up on the flight deck to entertain and distract the USN personnel. All of the survivors were located within 12 minutes of the collision and rescued before half an hour had passed, although the search continued for 15 more hours.
Seventy-four of the 273 crew on USS Frank E. Evans were killed. It was later learned that USS Frank E. Evans's commanding officer - Commander Albert S. McLemore - was asleep in his quarters at the time of the incident, and charge of the vessel was held by Lieutenants Ronald Ramsey and James Hopson; the former had failed the qualification exam to stand watch, while the latter was at sea for the first time. (Source)
The ship was temporarily detached from its duties off the coast of Vietnam to participate in the exercise mentioned above. Temporarily detached. Because of that and some odd rules in place at the Department of Defense (not the Department of the Navy mind you) the men who lost their lives aboard USS Frank E. Evans are not eligible to have their names upon the Wall. From my understanding of such things, it is a minor technicality which could (and should) be overridden.

These men died in the service of their country while deployed overseas to support the war in Vietnam. The ship's duty station was off the coast of Vietnam. Men who lost their lives while in transit to and from the war have their names on the Wall. These seventy-four deserve to be on that wall.

I agree with Ms. Esola. (You can get her book here.)
Ten ships and multiple aircraft searched for nearly 14 hours but reluctantly stopped searching at dark. “I should like to emphasize,” Rear Adm. King reported to the Seventh Fleet at 0638 on the 4th, “that glassy calm seas and the immediate and extremely thorough search by many Kearsarge and Melbourne helicopters and SEATO ships give us absolute confidence that we have picked up all survivors.” 
None of the men in Frank E. Evans’ forward officer’s quarters, CIC, forward fireroom, and the IC and plotting room at the time of the collision survived. Of the ten officers and 101 enlisted men in the forward portion of the ship, only four officers and 33 enlisted men survived. Seventy-four men of the ship’s company died in the tragedy:
Lt. (j.g.) Jon K. Stever
Ens. Alan H. Armstrong
Ens. Robert G. Brandon
Ens. Gregory K. Ogawa
Ens. Dwight S. Pattee
Ens. John T. Norton Jr.
HMC Charles W. Cannington
EMC Edward P. Hess
BMC Willie L. King
RD1 George J. La Liberte
RD1 Eugene F. Lehman
BT2 William D. Brown III
RD2 Christopher J. Carlson
RD2 Gary B. Hodgson
RM2 Ray P. Lebrun
IC2 Linden R. Orpurt
YN2 Earl F. Preston Jr.
RD2 Victor T. Rikal
BM2 Gary L. Sage
STG2 John R. Spray
RD2 Ronald A. Thibodeau
ETN3 James F. Bradley
YN3 James R. Cmeyla
BTM3 Larry W. Cool
ETR3 James W. Davis
GMG3 Steven F. Espinosa
STG3 Melvin H. Gardner Jr.
BM3 Patrick G. Glennon
STG3 Larry A. Gracely
RD3 Terry L. Henderson
BT3 Lawrence J. Reilly Jr.
RD3 Gregory A. Sage
RD3 Jon W. Thomas
QM3 Gary J. Vigue
RD3 Con W. Warnock
SN Andrew J. Botto
SN Thomas B. Box
SN Michael K. Clawson
SN Denny V. Clute
SN Patrick M. Corcoran
SN James F. Dykes III
SN James R. Baker
SN Francis J. Garcia
SN Fredric C. Messier Jr.
SN Thurston P. Smith Jr.
SA Harris M. Brown
SA Joe E. Craig
SA Leon L. Davis
SA Raymond J. Earley
SA Stephen D. Fagan
SA William D. Field
SA Alan C. Flummer
SA Henry K. Fyre
SA Donald E. Gearhart
SA Kenneth W. Glines
SA Joe L. Gonzales
SA Devere R. Grissom
SA Steven A. Guyer
SA Dennis R. Johnston
SA James W. Kerr
SA Isaac Lyons Jr.
SA Douglas R. Meister
SA Andrew M. Melendrez
SA Timothy L. Miller
SA Michael A. Orlikowski
SA Craig A. Pennell
SA Jerome Pickett
SA Kelly J. Sage
SA John A. Sauvey
BTFA Robert J. Searle
FA Gerald W. Smith
SA Thomas F. Tallon
SA John T. Tolar
SA Henry D. West III

Nebraska's Sage Brothers, from left, Gary, Kelly Jo and Greg.

The Sage brothers of Niobrara, Nebraska all lost their lives that day. Lawrence Reilly Sr., who retired from the Navy as a Master Chief Gunners Mate, was aboard USS Frank E. Evans that day, he was aft, his son, BT3¹ Lawrence Reilly Jr. was forward. The father barely survived, the son did not.

While one could argue that people lose their lives in the military every day, and have no memorial to them other than in the hearts of the one's who loved them, these men earned a place on the Wall. At least that's my two cents. What's your take?

Remember them...

Sources and Additional Reading:
  • Disaster in the South China See Link
  • HMAS Melbourne - USS Frank E. Evans Collision Link
  • Survivor of USS Frank E. Evans Disaster That Killed His Son Dies at 93 Link
  • Ship History, USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754)  Link
  • The Sage Brothers of Nebraska Link

¹ Boiler Technician 3rd Class


USS Frank E. Evans memorial in Arlington National Cemetery


  1. Agree 100% Sarge. That their names aren't already on the Wall is the result of pencil pushing bureaucrats lacking common sense. Let's hope the pols pass this ASAP instead of spending this country into ruination. Good post!! Oh.....five minutes after hitting the sack last night heard a coyote yipping. Have to ask two of the neighbors who had their fire pits going then if they heard the critter.

    1. Yes, it would be nice if the pols did something useful.

      Coyote? Did you hear "meep, meep" by any chance?

  2. When I was on my first can in '73 I heard carriers called "can openers." When I asked why I was told about the USS Frank E. Evans.

    I was still on active duty when the Kennedy and the Belknap collided.
    The Belknap was in the Philly shipyard from '76 until '80, and she was still widely talked about by the yardbirds when I started working there in '81.

    Can openers indeed.

    Thank you to Ms. Esola for her work.

    1. For decades Belknap was referred to as 'the Kennedy mod'. Grim humor keeps us afloat.

    2. Sometimes it's all we've got.

  3. OK, I'm going to be "that guy"

    Disagree 100% Sarge. As the opening of the Senate record says, they were outside the combat zone. Looking at the command history on the Evans Association web site, their last Vietnam service star was for the period 2-15 May, 1969, ending a full 2 weeks before the unfortunate collision. The rules set up by DoD are the rules, and if Congress doesn't agree they should direct them to be changed, not make exceptions for the most organized constituents. It is just as "bureaucratic" not including troops who died while on R&R in Thailand or Singapore, as they were only "temporarily detached" as well.


  4. Hey AFSarge,

    I had done a blogpost in 2017 on that, I had keyed in on it on a post from a link from a blogger on my blogroll, "Grouchy Old Cripple" Here was the tagline: "Remember back in “69” when the Frank Evans was cut in half by the Melbourne during exercises in the So China Sea. Captain was sleeping, he was Court Martialed and flushed out like a turd in the crapper. The two incompetents on the bridge had no business being there, Captain should have known their capabilities which, were shit. They survived the court martial, even with guilty pleas, but never got rank after that. Go figure. The Asshole Admiral that presided over the board of inquiry tried to put all the blame on the Melbourne and made a real spectacle (or was that Testicle) of himself. What a Dickhead. In that case, 74 Sailors died, and the two unqualified Assholes responsible for their deaths skated. We saw the remains of the Evans in dry dock in Subic and it looked like a giant Sawsall sliced it in half. Still can’t imagine how the rear half stayed afloat. With the Fitzgerald there are no excuses. It will be interesting to see how it all goes down and how the discipline gets dished out."
    Well I got to digging and it was a farce for a inquiry. and I did a post on it and the guys on that blog who were all old curmudgeonly types liked it. The 74 deserved to get their name on the wall.

  5. Plane guard was never fun.
    When “on station” we were always trying to catch up.
    It seemed like about half the time the carriers were late in notifying us of course changes.
    I can’t remember any time, though, when we or any other were out in front of the carrier when assigned to plane guard,
    In fact about the only time we found ourselves in front was when they did a 180 and reversed course.

    1. In looking through the list of deceased, I was amazed there weren’t more Chiefs.
      The Goat Locker is in the bow of the ship.
      I can only guess there was a lot of confusion on the bridge, and in CIC, that night.
      Changing station in formation isn’t exactly a fun exercise.

      On another note.
      If the survivors from Pearl Harbor can have their names added, shouldn’t those who were victims because they were sent to SE Asia be included with the other fallen from Vietnam Nam?

    2. From everything I've read, plane guard was no fun, no fun at all.

    3. Yes, odd that there weren't more chiefs on the list.

      Yes, to your last. Though I would avoid the term "victim" and use "casualty" instead.

    4. In the late 1980's I was part of the Reserve crew on a Knox frigate which was manned at 55% active duty sailors. We did carrier work-ups at which time we had three gunner's mates filling two watches, standing 12 on and 6 off. During the 6 off you were chow relief for the 2 men on, as well as relief for major head calls (solid Waste). We slept in the gun mount & carrier room on the thin foam pads from the landing force locker. We were expected to get rounds out in under 2 minutes. I can barely imagine what the Bridge/ CIC was like. We also provided live fire support for the ANGLICO school on the Bloodsworth Island range. The ship was not SUPPOSED to deploy for longer than 72 hours without reservists on board, which was honored more in the breach than in the observance. I was told we had the highest re-enlistment rate on the East Coast because everyone was re-enlisting for orders anywhere else. This is as close as I have come to a rant and I hope it won't recur. Old Guns

    5. That doesn't sound like a good situation.

  6. Dunno.

    Maybe a Cold War Memorial for all those who died not in Korea or Vietnam but in active service deaths (not driving home drunk in Germany, but runned over by truck while on maneuvers, or all the fallen fliers or the poor schmucks toasted in missile silos.)

    Maybe to the 74 being added, to a Cold War Memorial. Which should be a real thing.

    The ship and maneuvers were outside the scope of the Vietnam War. Last I heard, the North Viets had no subs and no ability to reach past artillery range. Since it was an ASW exercise and not a combat op. And out of the AO of the Vietnam War.

    Else, the poor dumb butts who die fueling a plane or get run over by a Follow-Me truck stateside servicing a plane going 'Over There' should also get added. As should all the deaths in Boot Camp and other stateside training. Or someone on a Vietnam desk in the Pentagon falling backward and splitting their head open.

    A line must be drawn somewhere.

    The only real submarine threat in 1969 was the USSR. With maybe Communist China and North Korea a distant second or third. It was an ASW exercise. In support of the overall Cold War. Not the Vietnam War.

    Cold War Memorial? Yes.

    Deaths at Sea Memorial? Yes.

    But The Wall? No.

    1. Again, we can agree to disagree.

    2. That's a technicality, detached and outside the combat zone, but there's some technicalities that support the bill. Technically, the only reason they were there was because of the war. Technically, the ship was going right back into the fight, and heavily loaded with ammo. Had the ammo stores been empty, supporting a non-combat event, like any other military exercise off the coast of SanDog or Norfolk, they would have had empty spaces and less weight, and personnel might have been in other parts of the ship. Therefore, they might have been able to secure compartments in time to save the bow section. Their deaths were related to the war in Viet Nam.

    3. That's the reasoning which led to the bill. Personally I hope it passes, though there are valid arguments on both sides, yours is, to me, the most relevant.

    4. So. Would an F-4 pilot, rotated to Japan from direct action in Vietnam for an exercise and then sent right back to Vietnam, who died during that exercise, be a 'Vietnam War Death?'

      I see your point, but agree to disagree.

    5. Yeah... No. Sounds like weasel wording to me. I'm gonna throw a flag on the play.

      Are they notable deaths? Yes. Death in training is just as, or often more, deadly and numerous than in actual combat.

      But... Not Vietnam. Therefore...

      I disagree.

      Do we need a memorial to all who have been lost at sea? Don't we already have one? If not, all non-war deaths at sea, by accident and so forth, should be listed. Start from Rev War period and move on to forever. Someone dies, they get added.

      Do we need a memorial to all who have died in training? I can see that.

      Do we need to pad the stats on one memorial? No. No we don't.

      And, really, it's a disservice to all who died on station and in the war. Disservice to the guys who died in machine accidents, to flight deck accidents, to deaths in theater.

      It's not dishonorable to not include the dead as part of the Vietnam War.

  7. This happened about six months after I left my first sea tour aboard a DD similar to Frank E. Evans, where I had qualified as Officer of the Deck (Underway, Fleet operations) as a LTJG. It hit me hard, and I could envision the events, and the faces of those lost, different names, but pretty much the same men as those I sailed with.

    Many of the six junior officers who perished were probably asleep in the forward officers' "J.O. Jungle" berthing, same as had been my living space. The three Chiefs were probably in the adjacent CPO quarters. The large number of non-designated seamen, draftees, were probably in the deck division berthing below the mess decks. The sudden ramming of the Evans was at 0315, about the time that the oncoming 0400-0800 watchstanders were being awakened. Most of the Radarmen (RDs) lost were probably in CIC, and the Radiomen (RMs) in Radio Central, both about 20-30 feet forward of the point of impact.

    Plane guard duty during air operations is one of the most hazardous maneuvering situations for destroyers. Doubly so at night. Even more risky with foreign ships involved, even those as professional as our English-speaking friends and allies. My skipper and OOD mentors had continually stressed one thing- "NEVER trust the carrier." For the skipper to be asleep in his inport cabin is inexcusable. If in his at-sea cabin, a few steps from the bridge, that would be only slightly less reprehensible. It would be prudent to be dozing in his chair on the starboard side of the bridge. Especially if the OOD and JOOD were known weak performers. It gives me the shudders today to think of this situation, set up for inevitable failure.

    I do NOT agree with adding the Evans names to the Wall.

    The division of who is eligible is clear and reasonable, as long as we seek to honor those who died in the "Vietnam War" more than those who died in the "Vietnam Era."

    Three days before the Evans was hit, Seaman Jay Dee Good died and 14 shipmates were injured aboard the USS Lowry (DD-770). A 5"/38 HE round detonated in bore in the left gun of Mount 51, during Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS) qualifications for deployment to Vietnam. SN Good's exclusion is justified by the same policy that excludes the Evans crew members. If they should be included, why not a nugget pilot ramp strike at Pensacola? Os some poor sailor hit by a drunk driver in Ologapo on liberty during a destroyer's port call on a break from the gun line?

    No, the Evans names do not belong on the Wall. There is a much smaller monument, in Niobara, Nebraska, and they are remembered, fittingly featuring the names of the three Sage brothers lost on Evans. Bravo Zulu to those who created that monument, and who revive the memory of the lost Evans crew members annually.

    I Had never heard about the loss of the Sage brothers until Sarge pointed it out. Thank you.
    John Blackshoe

    1. I understand the opposite point of view. There loss was "different" from those lost in country. Ms. Esola mentions that there are names on the Wall who didn't die in the AO itself. Unfortunately she gave no details. I don't plan to buy the book to see what those details are. I see both sides of this issue, and it's giving me a massive headache. Perhaps it's best to remember them without adding the overall context of the war we were engaged in at the time. There is a memorial to the men lost in Arlington. It's rather generic and doesn't, as near as I can tell, list those lost. Most of whom are entombed within the forward section of their ship.

      There's arguments to support both sides of this argument. I'd rather not lose sight of the fact that those men were lost, while serving overseas, during the Vietnam War. Perhaps it is no different than a nugget pilot hitting the ramp at Pensacola, but it is certainly a lot different than someone being lost on R and R in Thailand. I'm up in the air about the whole thing now.

      Perhaps it's past time to dedicate a memorial in DC to remember all of those lost outside the context of a war. Lemoore has their memorial to aviators lost, from all causes, the Naval Academy has their memorial to their graduates who died of all causes, not just war related.

      I don't know. I wish I did...

      Good comments all.

  8. Two survivors are Facebook friends. I sent your blog over to them.

  9. (Don McCollor) eerie precedent. In WW2 the liner Queen Mary had the light cruiser HMS Curacoa turn in front of her. She cut her in half and did not stop. Dared not stop because she was carrying ten thousand American troops aboard. Her escorts rescued less than a third of the crew...

    1. (Don McCollor)...later back then in 1943, Queen Mary set a passenger record. Voyaging from the US to England steaming at 34 knots without escort (no escort had the fuel to keep up with her) with 15,740 US troops and a crew of 900 aboard.

    2. No U-boat could hope to catch her even running full out on the surface.

    3. (Don McCollor)...The routes of the Queens and other convoys were directed by the US 10th Fleet (shore based with no vessels of its own, but with authority to issue orders to any US naval vessel in the Atlantic ocean [they were suggestions, but a prudent captain would do well to heed them]). It was headed by Adm. Ernie King who reported directly to Adm. Ernie King Chief of Naval Operations...

  10. At SWOS back in 1984 we all watched the movie about the loss of the Evans and it was made clear to us all that the ship was destroyed by the incompetence of the officers standing watch on the bridge. As I understand it, both officers cooperated fully in making the film which was a training film and it has proved its value a thousand times as tired people taking the watch can see the frames passing in front of their eyes if they slack off on the job. Many of the watches on ships were of the same importance but OOD and Conning officer are right there at the top for a very good reason. I assume that when the Navy killed SWOS they canned the movie and that's why two independent ships officered by fools collided with other ships in the Pacific. They had given no thought to the consequences of not doing the job.

    Good post. I had never heard of the Sage brothers or the Master Chief and his son.

    Their names don't really belong on the Wall. They didn't die or suffer mortal wounds in a combat zone. They got run over. The names on the Wall of those who died but not in the AOR or combat zone probably died of wounds in Japan, the PI or stateside and since their wounds were incurred in the Zone, they were counted for the Wall as Vietnam War deaths.

    1. I never understood the reason for gutting SWOS. Last I heard though, they were going to resurrect it. When my son went through it was six months long (IIRC), when my oldest daughter went through it was down to three or four weeks (I don't really remember). The difference was is that my son went through SWOS before joining the fleet, my daughter went through after serving on a destroyer. Much of what she was taught made sense as she had a context for what they were teaching. My son noted that the reason they shortened the school and had people go AFTER serving in the fleet was the Navy felt they were spending too much money on useless ensigns who would never amount to much (hhmm, perhaps they should have figured that out BEFORE commissioning). From what I can see, no problems were fixed and very few lessons were learned. Perhaps the deaths of so many sailors in the Pacific might wake a few flags up, but I really doubt it. Not when they're touting such disasters as the LCS, Zumwalt, and the Ford-Class carriers.

    2. Sad to see that as bad as the Fleet was in the early 80's ( SWOS grad, OOD Fleet on a DDG) that it's even worse now. Yes we saw the movie and yes we learned those lessons. The Black shoe Navy is reflective of the fact that they really haven't been to a no-kidding Navy war since 1945 and the outfit is overrun with SJW's, pogues and ass-kissers. Need to hold a serious field day on the whole outfit
      Boat Guy

    3. You're probably right. Too many flags, not enough leaders.

  11. CO of USS DAVIS in early 1980s was then-CDR Gerald W. "JD" Dunne, who was the communicator in EVANS. He related that the men in forward berthing were trapped because the ladder to the space was not pinned at the bottom--when the bow section rolled, the ladder swung and jammed the door. We in DAVIS were religious about toggle pins at the bottom of ladders, and we were very, very careful around carriers.
    "When in doubt, go for his wake. He's not as likely to hit you if you're behind him."
    Bill the Shoe


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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