A game of politics on the backs of 74 dead Americans
This is a painful post for me to write. If you've read my book American Boys and you are following the ordeal of getting the Department of Defense to add the names of these 74 young men to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial you know that today the survivors and families are the closest they've come to resolution. That effort has stalled. Why? Simply put: politics. Yes, once again a game of politics in being played on the backs of dead Americans, as was the story in 1969 and again, 46 years later.
In May 2014 Congress passed an amendment attached to the Defense Authorization Act for 2015, urging the Secretary of Defense to order that the name be added--this amendment did not have teeth. It could only send a message to the Pentagon. In December, in a mix of sheer politics and shifting priorities, that amendment did not make it into the Senate's version of the bill, which was signed by the president about a week before Christmas. BUT, both Congress and the Senate included a joint statement attached to the bill as a "trailer." That statement included language that tells the Department of Defense that the names ought to be added to the Vietnam Wall. Mission accomplished? Not quite.
After this, Congressmen Adam Schiff, who's been leading the efforts on the lawmaker front for the past few years, phoned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Here's where it gets interesting. An embattled Chuck Hagel, who was essentially booted out by the Obama administrtion earlier in the month, did not take his call. (How very 7th grade of him!) According to Schiff's office, he is going to let the incoming secretary of defense handle it. Hagel, a former Nebraska senator who once told the veterans and families that he would help, is still in that post and doing nothing. Won't he even talk about it. I pressed the Pentagon's press office for about a week and was told, at first off the record and, after more prodding, now ON the record, that there is nothing in the Defense bill that forces them to act. Essentially, they won't do anything because nobody is outright telling them to. Nevermind common sense or the duty to investigate, the duty to go that extra mile for 74 dead Americans and their famiies who have been shortchanged for 46 years and deserve answers. Shame on you Charles Timothy Hagel!
I sent a series of e-mails asking why the joint statement isn't enough, why the Pentagon isn't addressing the Vietnam Service Medal given to the USS Frank E. Evans on the day she sank, why the Pentagon isn't looking at the peripheral objectives during that SEATO "exercise" that led to the death of 74 Americans. Basically, they have been ignoring me. And I won't be ignored. Just look at my facebook page. Keep sharing these posts and telling people about this injustice.
Of course this is not over. I went ahead and came up with a Plan B: resubmit information to the Navy Casualty Division, the division that handles requests to add names to the Vietnam Wall. Keep in mind no other addition to the Vietnam Wall required congressional action. Why should the lost 74 be any different? Why are the powers not looking at the ship's history and record? I worked with a few family members who sent letters indicating their knowledge that I, a journalist and not kin of the 74, was submitting new information I uncovered in my research for American Boys. They have the packet I sent (thanks to USPS tracking) and a few messages and an e-mail--but no word back. I also sent a copy of my book. That said, I feared this would get lost in some pile of papers somewhere. So, Fred Kerr, who lost his brother James on the Evans, got his congresswoman, Congressman Lois Capps, involved. An aide in her office, a young lady who read my book and knows the issue (finally! someone who is well-versed!), contacted me this week to get all the information she needed to press the Navy casualty office to work on this.
Later in the week, I spoke with an aide in Senator Pat Toomey's office, who said they are on it for including another amendment in the Defense bill for 2016. Oh boy. Another year of waiting and wishing.
In a nutshell, this is not going to go away. What can you do? Keep helping to spread the word.