The “Lost 74,” including three of Niobrara's own, finally have a memorial in their honor.
As part of Memorial Day services in Niobrara, the memorial for the sailors of the USS Frank E. Evans who were killed in a collision June 3, 1969 in the South China Sea was unveiled in a ceremony on Monday, next to the Sage Brothers Memorial.
The event drew an immense crowd of local citizens, VFW members, and survivors of the incident. It was hosted by the American Legion Post 224 of Niobrara, with James Scott serving as the master of ceremonies.
After an introduction by Mayor Sheila Keeler, members of the crew of the USS Evans spoke to the crowd of the events on the day and the importance of having a memorial in honor of the 74 men who died 47 years ago.
“I can’t say how proud I am to have them honored in this fashion,” said Del Francis, a former third class radarman on the USS Evans and survivor of the disaster.
Francis was one of two survivors to help unveil the monument, which was made up of two stone memorials placed on either side of the Sage Brothers memorial, with the names of the lost engraved into the stone.
During the unveiling, members of the Outback Band sang the Navy Hymn. Francis then assisted in the reading of the names and ringing of the bell in memory of all 74 men.
After an original song was sang in honor of the fallen, an ode to the men was held along with a 21-gun salute. Steve Kraus gave closing remarks before a benediction from VFW Chaplain Bob Crosley ended the ceremony.
The memorial honors the 74 men who died in the disaster because the men have yet to be included on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.
If the survivors of the collision have their way, that won’t be the case much longer.
The survivors, along with former crewmen of the Evans and family members of the deceased, started the USS Frank E. Evans (DD754) Association in 1992. The organization’s goals are to promote camaraderie, patriotism, history of the ship and commemorate the deceased men.
As a mission that was set forth from these goals, the association has led an effort to have the names of the 74 men added to the Vietnam Memorial. Despite contact with the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, various senators and state secretaries, the effort has not been fulfilled yet. Multiple bills have been proposed in congress, only to be killed or disregarded.
Members of the association have not been disheartened by their struggle. They have simply begun to try harder, they said.
Francis, a resident of Sulfer Springs, TX, is set to lead another effort to gain support to have the names added to the memorial.
On June 3 - the 47th anniversary of the disaster - 74-year-old Francis will set out on his bicycle from Sulfer Springs and make his way to the steps of the capitol building in Washington D.C. as part of his Ride For Recognition. He has set up a Facebook page to document his progress.
It brings Francis great joy to see the people of Niobrara so supportive of the association’s cause.
“Who’d have guessed it’d be a town of 400 people that would help honor these men,” Francis said. “It’s an honor to be in the presence of people that supported it so greatly.”