Those who gathered Friday morning under an overcast sky at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park were on a mission – much like the crew on board the USS Frank Evans off the coast of Vietnam on June 3, 1969.
A memorial was placed at the naval yard, a tribute to the three New York State residents who were among the 74 men killed when an allied flagship T-boned their destroyer in the South China Sea.
Buffalo native Terry Lee Henderson was on that ship, along with two others servicemen from New York.
While the memorial at the naval park will ensure their names and sacrifices will not be forgotten here in Buffalo, the names aren’t on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Nor are the names of the other casualties from the destroyer.
The reason is that the Department of Defense does not consider the casualties war-related because they occurred outside the combat zone.
Friends, relatives and at least one survivor of the wartime collision at sea believe their names should be on the wall.
“We just want the memorial to say the names of the servicemen who went down with the ship,” said Randy Henderson, younger brother of Terry Lee Henderson.
Henderson, 60, is from Mayville. He was accompanied by his mother Maryann Buettner of Westfield.
The dedication ceremony was part of the USS Frank Evans military reunion this weekend in and around Buffalo.
The movement has a powerful ally in Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who has called the placement of the names on the national memorial an issue of justice. In May, Schumer announced he was introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Department of Defense to enshrine the names of the 74 casualties who went down with part of the USS Frank Evans.
“By withholding the names of these 74 veterans, including Terry Lee Henderson of Western New York, from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, we are continuing to deny individuals who bravely served this country and paid the ultimate sacrifice the proper recognition they deserve.”
Schumer was represented by a member of his staff at Friday’s ceremony in Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown addressed some 200 people who attended, echoing Schumer’s sentiment.
John Coffey, a member of the Board of Directors of the USS Frank E. Evans Association, described the wartime collision that led to the loss of 74 lives. The tale is also documented on the association’s website: www.ussfee.org:
The crew on the Evans was participating in a naval exercise “Operation Sea Spirit” with more than 40 ships of SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). The Frank Evans would ultimately be on a collision course with HMAS Melbourne.
“It was 3 in the morning and the sea was like glass,” said Coffey, who served on the ship but was not onboard at the time of the collision. “The practicing seaman were getting ready to launch when they found themselves on a collision course with the carrier. The carrier T-boned the destroyer and basically cut it in two. The men in the front were the casualties. There were Australian servicemen jumping into the water to save our men.”
The bow sank in three minutes, said Coffey.
The Frank Evans was the only American warship not to make it back to the U.S. from Vietnam.
Susie Rice, 71, from Bellflower, CA, attended the Friday morning dedication here. She recalled going to see the USS Frank Evans leave port in Long Beach, CA.
“I had 20 friends on the ship,” she said. “Fortunately none of them went down with the ship.”
Rice, too, supports the quest to “get the names on the wall.”
The dedication ceremony was part of the USS Frank Evans annual military reunion this weekend in and around Buffalo.
Randy Henderson – Terry Henderson’s younger brother – is 60 and lives in Mayville. He was accompanied by his mother Maryann Buettner of Westfield.
Earlier this year Randi Henderson and his 88-year-old mother received a visit from Schumer. She, the senator and Randy Henderson went through scrapbooks dedicated to the memory of her veteran son. Buettner recalled the day she was visited by two members of the U.S. Navy who broke the news of her son’s death.
“Sen. Schumer is one of our highest supporters,” said Randy Henderson. “The Secretary of Navy has supported it. My brother and 73 other servicemen lost his life supporting this country. We just want closure.”