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Navy signs off on push to add sailors’ names to Vietnam wall

The Navy officially signed off on a decades-old effort to have the names of 74 sailors – including a Chautauqua County native – who died on the USS Frank E. Evans added to the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Department of Defense still has to give its OK, according to a letter sent to Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

“While the Secretary of the Navy believes this case has merit … the Department of Defense determined that this tragedy does not meet the standard for inscription,” wrote Russell Beland, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy.

Schumer has championed an effort by families of the 74 who include Terry Lee Henderson, who was from Westfield. The men died in a collision with an Australian ship on June 3, 1969, when the Evans was in the South China Sea participating in anti-submarine exercises with U.S. allies.

While 199 survived, 74 men died in the front of the ship, which sank quickly. Their names were not included on the wall because the ship was 100 miles outside the official combat zone.

It is an irrelevant distinction, according to the families and the author of a book about seamen who died.

“That ship would never have been there had there not been a Vietnam War,” said Louise Esola, who wrote “American Boys.”

Henderson’s younger brother Randy, who lives in Mayville, has arranged for an annual reunion of Evans survivors and descendents to be held in Buffalo in 2016.

Schumer is optimistic that the names will be added. “Now, our fight to have this injustice reversed will focus on the top brass at the Department of Defense, and rest assured we will do all in our power to persuade them to finally and appropriately honor these brave sailors for their sacrifice and service,” he said in a statement.