On Monday, Del Francis completed the final leg of his 1,550-mile bicycle journey from his home in Sulphur Springs, Texas to the U.S. Capitol building in an effort to raise awareness for his 74 fallen shipmates who died tragically during the Vietnam War whose names were not engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Francis, 74, left Texas on June 3, the 47th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Frank E. Evans, out of sheer frustration with the stalled efforts in Washington to memorialize his fallen shipmates, three of whom were brothers and good friends. Francis, who also lost virtually everyone he worked with as a radarman aboard the Vietnam War support vessel, is a survivor of the harrowing collision at sea that took the lives of 74 crewmen.
He will complete his journey on the 74th day.
Joining him on the last ride are Congressman Adam Schiff, a staunch supporter of the effort who introduced legislation to help pave the way to adding 74 names to the Vietnam Wall, and Randy Henderson, who lost his brother Terry on board the ill-fated destroyer. Louise Esola, author of the award-winning book American Boys: The True Story of the Lost 74 of the Vietnam War,” joined the group at the Capitol. Esola’s research, compiled over four years at various presidential libraries, U.S. Naval Archives, the National Archives and more, shows how the names of the men who died onboard the Evans deserve to be included on the Vietnam Wall, per the criteria set forth by the Dept. of Defense.
The Evans, at the time an aging World War II class destroyer that remained on the line with the Seventh Fleet to fight the war, was sent to Southeast Asia in 1969 to provide naval gunfire support. After its first of what was to be five missions off the coast of Vietnam during the summer of 1969 it was sent to participate in a multinational seafaring exercise that had links to the war. The ship, fully loaded on call for service off the coast of Vietnam, was awarded its final Vietnam Service Medal, a combat medal, on the day it sank. The Dept. of Defense, announced in May via Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office that it would re-investigate the incident. The Secretary of the United States Navy endorsed adding the names to the Vietnam Wall.
“These 74 men died serving their country; why isn’t this country recognizing their sacrifice?” said Francis, who is calling on the Dept. of Defense to reverse its ruling, which is based on a bureaucratic technicality that completely diminishes the sacrifices and service of 74 men and their families.
“For my 74th birthday I rode in honor of my 74 shipmates; what better way to honor them and raise awareness?”
Several lawmakers are now working to reverse this injustice. Congressman Schiff, who began efforts in 2010, is joined by Sen. Schumer and Sen. Bob Melendrez, who have both announced support.