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April 3, 2014

War museum to launch Navy memorial garden

National Vietnam War Museum to honor 74 sailors who died in 1969 ship collision

By TODD GLASSCOCK | Lone Star News Group

Sometime around 3 a.m. on June 3, 1969, in the South China Sea just off mainland Vietnam, the USS Frank E. Evans initiated turns for what should have been a routine maneuver to change formations during a training exercise.

Instead, those turns, ordered by a junior officer, set the destroyer on a collision course with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.

“I knew the carrier was going to hit us,” said Steve Kraus of Oceanside, Calif., who was the signalman on watch aboard the Evans that morning. When he saw the carrier, he ran to the signal shack to issue a warning, but would not have time to get the warning out before the two ships collided.

The destroyer was split in two, he said. The ship rolled starboard, then righted momentarily before going bow up, sinking beneath the calm sea within three minutes.

Once water reached the signal shack, Kraus began swimming until he was safely away from the wreckage, and was able to grab a deck board and cling to it before being rescued. “It was pitch black but I kept swimming. I saw the bow go under.”

The collision resulted in the lives of 74 U.S. sailors lost, he said. Two hundred-four men survived.

Kraus, vice president of the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association Inc., on Monday visited the National Vietnam War Museum, located in Parker County just outside Mineral Wells, where those sailors as well as all sailors who served in the Vietnam War will be honored at a memorial service on June 7. Also visiting was the association’s president, J.C. Campbell, of Granbury, who served on the Evans during the Korean War.

The sailors who lost their lives aboard the destroyer will be honored that day with the establishment of a memorial garden and a tree planting. A granite memorial will eventually be installed, said Jim Messinger, the museum’s treasurer. He said he was honored to add a U.S. Navy memorial garden that will honor those who served in Vietnam and sees placing a tree and granite memorial to those lost on the Evans as a very appropriate way to honor those men.

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