June 3rd is a sad day in our family history, as it was June 3, 1969, when my younger brother, US Navy BT3 Lawrence John Reilly Jr., was killed in the collision between his ship, the USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) and the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.
I was stationed at the 6th Naval District Headquarters at the time and learned of the collision late in the evening of June 2nd (it was early morning on June 3rd off the coast of Vietnam). I had played softball that evening and the phone was ringing when my wife Sandy & I arrived home after the game. That call was from my father-in-law, Joe Douglas, but we had barely started talking when the operator broke in with an emergency call. Joe said, “I know what that is” and said I should take the call. It was my Mom, telling me that the Evans, on which both my Dad and brother were serving, had been involved in a collision and half the ship had sunk, with a number of sailors unaccounted for.
I spent most of that night on the phone, trying to get information about the collision. Finally, after I got to my office early the next morning, I spoke on the phone with a friend who was at the Navy public affairs office in Washington. He had a list of the missing men, but said it was not yet authorized for public release. I imposed on our friendship and he relented, saying that there was a Lawrence J. Reilly on the list. I asked, “Sr. or Jr.?” He told me that it didn’t say, so I asked what rate and he replied “BT3”. My brother was missing and I knew that after that long there was no chance he was going to be found alive. I then called home and Mom answered the phone. There was no easy way to break the news, so I just said, “Dad’s okay, but Larry is missing.” She said, “Oh, my poor Booper” and started crying. “Booper” was her nickname for Larry when he was a baby.
Within a few hours, I had made arrangements to fly to California and got home in time to then fly up to Travis Air Force Base with my brother Jerry to meet Dad when the Navy flew him home ahead of the rest of the crew. Dad had also been on the forward half of the ship, asleep in his quarters, at the time of the collision. He managed to find his way off the ship, despite the fact that it was heeled over on one side and sinking rapidly. He was one of a small number of crewmen who escaped from the half of the ship that sank.
Altogether, 74 men were lost in the collision. Because it occurred just outside the designated Vietnam war combat zone, and despite the fact that the SEATO training exercise “Sea Spirt” during which the collision occurred was directly related to Vietnam duty, their names are not included on the Vietnam wall. Over the years, a number of efforts have been made to have them added, all to no avail.
Coincidentally, I had a long lunch meeting today (June 8) with journalist Louise Esola, who is writing a book about the Evans. Part of the impetus for and one of the themes of the book is the issue of getting the 74 names on the Vietnam Wall. Louise showed me Navy records which specify that the service of the Evans on June 2, 1969, during which the ship was participating in “Sea Spirit”, qualified everyone on the ship for the Vietnam Service Medal. It seems to me that this alone is reason enough to rectify the wrong that has been done to the memory of these men and to have their sacrifice recognized on the Wall.
During the previous deployment of the Evans to Vietnam in 1968, I was working at the headquarters of the Seventh Fleet detachment in Saigon and was able to arrange a visit to the Evans while she was on the gunline. Buck Lanier, a friend and military reporter for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, visited with us as well, writing the following article:
The USS Frank E. Evans Association website is here:
The USS Frank E. Evans Facebook page is here:
The USS Frank E. Evans Association history of the ship is here: