This week Senator Chuck Schumer's office released a statement indicating that the Department of Defense is now reviewing the case of the lost 74. What does this mean and what's all the celebration about? This is the first time the DoD has agreed to look into this matter. Before it was always a no, followed by canned quotes from various secretaries of defense, one statement never distinguishable from the next. Meaning, the issue probably never even made it to his (whomever he was at the time) desk. Except for Chuck Hagel. How that you-know-what (I'm working on my cursing here) sleeps at night is beyond me. I did speak with Schumer's office this week and they are just as excited as I am. Happy to say that his office knows what they are talking about. Why? They've all read my book American Boys.
So what does this mean? Well, for starters the DoD will finally have to answer questions about this incident. Like, how did the USS Frank E. Evans merit the Vietnam Service Medal at the exact time of her sinking? (As did all the American vessels involved in the exercise, including the little ship that could (the USS Tawasa) which tugged the decapitated Evans to Subic Bay. You don't get medals for exercises people. So how did this happen? One Evans survivor pointed out that the data for the Evans' medal reads "2 Jan- (blank)." Jan means January. BUT, it's a typo. The records are in chronological order and the Evans's final medal came after its May Vietnam Service Medal for participation in Operation Daring Rebel. In January 1969 the Evans was in Long Beach. So it's a typo. Say it with me: typo. (Wow the Navy sure made a lot of mistakes back then...) And then there's the fact that the Evans sank with a full war allowance of ammunition. For what? A trip to Honolulu? It is a fact that ever single destroyer in Desron 23 went back to Vietnam after the ill-fated, poorly-planned SEATO exercise. And then of course, there's the information in the operations order for said exercise. And then the DoD ought to look at the other groups of names added to the Wall in recent years and ask themselves: how is this fair? I have long believed that the reason this hasn't happened, the reason those names have been excluded (not initially but in the years following the wall's unveiling) is that it is 74 names. Not four names; not seven. Seventy-four names. Well, that's not our problem. I am sure some of the families would have liked that number to be fewer. I'm sure Eunice and Ernest Sage would have liked to see at least one of their sons return from Vietnam. It's 74 and, as Congressman Adam Schiff's office said years ago, there's room.
So finally, the DoD will have to answer questions. Hopefully Schumer's office can hold them to it. Hopefully they won't spin it, and release their usual canned responses. Hopefully someone in that building in Arlington can do the right thing. As someone wise told me recently: don't give up the ship.