SIKESTON, MO (KFVS) - One man has dedicated his life in trying to get 74 Vietnam veterans' names put on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Del Francis, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran who is in the midst of cycling his way from Sulphur Springs, Texas to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness for these 74 men who sacrificed their lives, was making his way through the Heartland on Sunday, June 26.
"It's very, very rare that we find somebody that is opposed to it," Francis said. "Almost everybody said 'well why wouldn't they be.' Families of these men drove clear across the country to see their son's name listed on that wall only to find out it's not there."
On June 3, 1969 at 3 a.m., the Frank E. Evans DD 754 was ordered to take plane guard station at the rear of the Australian Carrier HMAS Melbourne. As it turned around, the Evans was hit by the Melbourne due to some confusion.
"It was the only American warship that was lost in Vietnam that did not return," Francis said. "It's the second largest loss of life for the Navy during Vietnam."
The ship was cut in half and the front part sunk within minutes, resulting in the death of 74 men.
"There was only one body picked up," Francis said. "The rest are laying at the bottom of the sea."
Francis said the men are not listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall because they were technically out of the combat zone at the time the collision occurred. However, Francis was on that ship and said they were still very much part of the war.
"There's many exceptions to that rule, but we really don't need an exception," Francis said. "We were on our way from Vietnam and back to Vietnam."
Francis was fortunate to have survived the crash and had help when an Australian soldier hoisted up the broken end of the back part of the ship with ropes to help keep it afloat.
Francis said he is determined to do everything he can to persuade government officials and the Department of Defense to help recognize these 74 soldiers that gave their lives for their country.
"We've had petitions, we've done everything we can think of," Francis said. "And out of frustration, I just thought...it's the people. When the people demand that these names be listed, they will be listed."
Francis said there has been some progress made, which includes a bill asking the Department of Defense to review the case.
However, Francis said there was many times in years past he thought the names would be added, but unfortunately they fell short.
"I will continue till my dying death, my dying breath," Francis said. "It's very important to me. These men deserve to be on that wall with their brothers that died in Vietnam."