'A slap in the face': Naval disaster was too far from Vietnam to honor victims on memorial wall
Green Bay Press-Gazette Published
May 3, 2019
You might as well just say they died in the Vietnam War. If you were related to one of them, that’s what you’d say.
The Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne after its collision with the USS Frank E. Evans during training in 1969. Courtesy of USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association, Inc.
But you’ll find none of the names of the 74 American sailors who died, including three from Wisconsin, on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. That’s because it was a training accident, a terrible mistake, a crash between two naval vessels that happened about 100 miles from the combat zone.
The USS Frank E. Evans, nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” for its ability to slip in and out of the mists during the Korean War, had been shelling the Vietnam coastline a couple weeks earlier. On this particular day, June 3, 1969, the destroyer was engaged in practice maneuvers on the South China Sea with 40 other ships from the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.
That night, the Evans collided with the Australian aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne, that it was practicing guarding. The Evans was cut in half, and most of the occupants of the front half of the ship drowned. That's 74 men, including James R. Cmeyla, 24, of Luxemburg; Michael A. Orlikowski, 28, Milwaukee; and Jon W. Thomas, 22, of Delavan.
None of the 74 names have been included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., supposedly because it was not a combat mission and it was outside the designated combat zone.
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