Effort advances to add names of sailors to Vietnam Veterans Memorial

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - Many are calling it a big step forward in a decades-old fight for recognition for 74 sailors killed in a ship collision during the Vietnam War.

House lawmakers have passed a defense bill which urges Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to add those names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

In June 1969, after providing gun support off Vietnam, the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans was sent more than 100 miles away for a training exercise.

The exercise turned tragic when an Australian anti-submarine aircraft carrier cut the destroyer in half.

"It was horrendous," said Steve Kraus of Oceanside. "That noise: metal on metal. It was like a huge semi-truck running through a Volkswagen. I was on my back."

As his ship rolled over, the former signalman found himself in the water. Kraus was one of nearly 200 rescued.

Seventy-four sailors would die that night. Among the dead were three brothers. Also in the crew were a father and son from San Diego. The father would survive, while the son would not.

More than a decade later, the grief turned to frustration when loved ones found out the names of the 74 sailors would not be etched into the memorial because they had been outside the combat zone when they died.

To this day, Kraus says the omissions feel like an empty void.

"It gives you a sickening feeling," he said. "I can't understand this."

Since 2002, loved ones and survivors have launched several campaigns to get the names added, to no avail. Supporters contend that the ship had fought in the war, was training for the war and was headed back to the war.

Author Louise Esola interviewed many of the sailors' parents for a book due out in September.

"Many are getting older and want something done," she said. "I get a sense in some ways they're holding on for this."

Their wishes may soon come true. House lawmakers recently passed a defense bill which urges Hagel to add the names. The Veterans of Foreign Wars has also passed a resolution in support of adding the names.

"I've waited for the day," said Kraus. "It will be a joyous day and happy day."

He is hopeful Hagel will add the names because as a senator, he told family of one of the sailors he would support their cause. Hagel is also the first Vietnam veteran to serve as Secretary of Defense.

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