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Tough questions...

As some of you know Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) is leading the charge now on getting 74 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It's making press--yippee!! (Click here to see today's release.) I spoke with his office several times yesterday and today, had some back and forth with his staff. I also passed along this letter, which I wrote to the Department of Defense's Manpower Division on May 15, 2015 after reading some recent correspondence between the DoD, Sen. John McCain's (AZ) office, and some families and survivors of the USS Frank E. Evans. (Yes, I was fired up.) Of all the lawmakers CCed, not one addressed this. (I heard crickets, as usual.) The DoD ignored it, of course, as they have done with all inquiries that ask tough questions. Hopefully Sen. Schumer can get them to address every single one of these concerns...

May 15, 2015

Dear (Manpower Division Director),

I hope this finds you well. I am emailing because I was recently forwarded two letters from you regarding information on the USS Frank E. Evans' 74 casualties and the exclusion of their names on the Vietnam Memorial. I am CCing Senator John McCain's office since he is named in both of them. I am also CCing members of the USS Frank E. Evans Association and Congressman Adam Schiff's office, which is also handling this inquiry. Bob DeSousa, an aide in Senator Pat Toomey's office, is also interested in exploring this and is CCed. My friends at the Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer are also CCed.

I understand you are basing your information on the fact that the Evans was involved in a SEATO training exercise outside of the combat zone as the rationale. That's it?

I was wondering if the Department of Defense, and hence your office, is aware that the ship was awarded a Vietnam Service Medal on the day it sank and that some--not all--of the men were awarded the same medal for that exact time frame. Why is this not factored in the decision? It seems there is some contradiction here, since in order to get that medal for a certain time period (that being 2 Jun 1969- blank) that vessel or person needs to be doing something related to the war at that time, directly supporting combat operations. I have yet to hear the Pentagon's stance on this and I have made many inquiries. Are the veterans to consider their medals void? (The perimeters for receiving this medal were set by the Pentagon in 1965.) Vessels involved in SEATO exercises were performing other duties in support of the war; otherwise why were the ships--the Evans and the other American ships in Sea Spirit in 1969, and other ships in other years in other SEATO missions-- awarded that same medal? Did you know that when the ships left Manila in May 1969 that every speaker at the opening ceremony for the SEATO exercise talked about Vietnam and controlling those sea lanes. Every single one of them. (Do patrols not count?) Also, did you know what was stated in the OpOrder for Sea Spirit? Sino-Soviet jamming. Did you know who was supplying the enemy at the time, and how they were doing so, per CIA archives? Did you know what the Nixon administration was saying about why the US needed to keep the ships there? (This is verbatim from a memo dated February 1969: "…a combination of background maneuvers involving assets not currently tied 100 percent to the war in South Vietnam…") Did you know why the exercises were held there? Did you know what the Seventh Fleet said in 1966 about SEATO exercises? (I do.)

It seems the Pentagon has been grossly unfair and negligent in their decision to keep 74 men from being honored appropriately, and that no real work has been done on this save for the cut-and-paste job when sending letters to families and survivors who have been trying for decades to have the Pentagon see this another way, the correct way. You say in your letters that this decision does not diminish the sacrifices made by the 74 and their families. It does and it will always as far as your office is concerned, as long as your office fails to fully research this and make an educated decision.

I understand the medal is not part of the criteria for inclusion on the wall--this is what the Navy Casualty Division told me in February of this year. However inclusion for the wall and the qualifications for the medal are virtually the same thing--were they in the war or weren't they? Can't have it both ways.

I hope you understand that this is a matter many feel the Pentagon has not adequately addressed. The Department of Defense's reasons appear stale--even the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus now agrees (I can show you that letter). Let's talk about some other additions to the wall… There's the 68 names of Marine killed in a C-130 in Hong Kong; names added in 1983. In 2014 the Pentagon OKed the name addition of a man who died in a hospital in Guam; it is unclear where he suffered his heart attack. As you know, the Pentagon also added four names in 2012--the "Back End Crew" of an aircraft that was flying just off Cubi Point. I have a letter with your name on it, approving that addition. Apparently, all it took was a piece of paper. For the Evans' 74 that piece of paper needed comes with a bronze medal, no? To keep those names off the wall is a slap in the face of every man who wears those stripes. To not address this is a slap in the face of the Gold Star families who sent their boys on that ship to fight in the Vietnam War. It was the only reason the USS Frank E. Evans was there. (The ship was supposed to deploy in May 1969 but left in March, understaffed and in a hurry, to help fight the war---I have some papers for you to look at.) The ship would have been decommissioned had it not been for the war--I can show you those papers, too. You mentioned in one of the letters that the wall was intended for combat deaths only. This wildly untrue. Did you know there is the name of a man who took his own life stateside on that wall? (Name added in 2003) That one of the names was of a man who died of meningitis on a ship in the Tonkin Gulf? What about the vehicle accidents in country?

The Vietnam Service Medal was not awarded for "training" missions, true. How did they get that medal? Why is the Pentagon working to diminish the work done to earn that medal? If it is unclear--Navy Casualty Division told me so-- then why give the benefit of the doubt to the man who died in a hospital in Guam and not to the 74 men killed on a Navy ship performing duties to support the war? Why did the ship sink with a "full war allowance" of ammunition? This concern was raised during the Board of Inquiry in 1969 when examining why, tragically, the front half of the ship sank so quickly, in three minutes. She was fully loaded. So had that ammunition not been there maybe a few more sailors could have climbed out of the ship in time and we would be talking about 30 names, or 3 names. The Pentagon has always said that there is no proof that the ship was going back to the gunline-- why the full war allowance? Why did all the ships from that same destroyer squadron go back after the accident? (My favorite question is one that came from a naval historian at the Library of Congress when I was there in 2012: What was that ship doing there in that part of the world anyway?) Another great question: Why did the Navy and the DoD try so hard in 1969 to keep this away from Vietnam? (I have that paper trail dating back to 3 June 1969.)

I'm an author and spent four years on my book American Boys: The True Story of the Lost 74 of the Vietnam War. I would love to send you a copy, along with any other documents you might like to see. Feel free to contact me. I hope you understand that I only want to help. You must understand fully in the work that you do the sacrifices made by our fighting men and women and their families. I hope you want to help, too. Why doesn't the Pentagon want to help? Why the resistance in honoring 74 men who died in the Vietnam War? Why won't the Pentagon even answer questions about this? Why all the resistance?

As you might know, both the Senate and the House agreed in 2014 that this needs to happen, per the Explanatory Statement attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015. Thus far, the Department of Defense has refused to adequately address this. Is it because of money to engrave 74 names in granite? A recent letter from McCain's office to an Evans survivor indicates money is the reason. Are we to think that people who gave their sons, fathers, and brothers are to now worry about paying to add their sacrifice to the Vietnam Wall? Isn't that a separate entity funded by donations from people who want to honor the sacrifices made by America's fallen and their families? When has honoring dead American servicemen (and, these days, women) ever been about money?

The families need your help Ms. Snavely-Dixon.

If this e-mail ever gets forwarded and makes it to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's desk tell him I'm from Philly. He'll understand.


Louise Esola

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