An Open Letter to the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club Facebook Page
March 17, 2014
Thought I would use my own forum to address the group, which I excused myself from this afternoon after some members became embroiled over the fact that I did not serve in the navy during the 1960s (I wasn't even alive) and that I had no right to dispute information one member was stating as a fact. This, only because he was in the navy in the 1960s and served under one command that looked into the Evans collision. I then saw another member say that I was promoting a book I wrote using information obtained on Google. Incorrect my friend.
At issue is whether the 74 men killed on the USS Frank E. Evans belong on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. One gentleman said they don't belong there and gave a reason why, a reason based on his own assignment in 1969--without any verification of privilege to classified information. I spent nearly four years researching and writing my book and came to the conclusion that yes, they should be there. My research is based on declassified information gathered at the National Archives, the Naval History and Heritage Command, The Nixon Library, documents found at the Library of Congress, originals sent to me by retired individuals, the list goes on.
That said, the goal of my book is to not only make a clear case for including these young men on the wall but to raise awareness that yes, there was a US Navy during Vietnam and yes, they fought. They gave all just like everybody else. They were "there." Away from home. Drafted. Nearly drafted. Etc. Etc. Hollywood made the average American think of only Apocalyse Now and Hamburger Hill when thinking of those who suffered during that war. The Bluewater Navy Veterans have been trying to get bills passed to have their Agent Orange-related medical claims funded by the Veterans Administration. The time is now. No more myths. It is all about truth. Are there names on the Vietnam Wall of people who died in accidents? By friendly fire? Outside of the combat zone? By his own hand in the United States of America? All of the above and more.
I became a journalist because I wanted to help people by telling their stories. I am grateful to the survivors of the Evans disaster and their families for sharing with me their stories. I have hundreds of hours of interview tape and stacks of letters, files for every man who spoke to me and the families of those who perished.
I am sorry if I offended some people by being in the group. For me it was always sort of "immersion journalism." That is, getting to know more about the era and the people by hanging out with the people. I credit the group in my book, and thank them. That said, I may have overstepped by telling someone he was wrong because he is. That's my passion for the 74 and the veterans. Plus--it has to be said--I am from Philly and have Latin and Irish blood coursing through my veins. I never told anyone about my not being a journalist. I was also clear that I was writing a book about your navy. I tell everyone that. The first time I talk to them and when I sit across from them at a USS Frank E. Evans ship reunion (I've been to four of them).
My point is, I'm a 35-year old journalist and mother. And I care.