Since 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has served to honor and remember those Americans who gave their lives fighting in the Vietnam War.
This month, however, the Pentagon announced that one set of fallen sailors' names will not be added to the wall, as they “do not meet the established criteria.”
As the Associated Press reports, the controversial decision is a reaction to a “long-standing request” from the survivors and families of those who were killed aboard the USS Frank E. Evans. Half of the ship sank in the early morning hours of June 3, 1969, after it collided with Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.
The collision, which occurred during a nighttime training exercise, literally cut the Evans in half, sinking the bow section and killing 74 U.S. sailors.
Supporters have long maintained that the names of the fallen sailors should be included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, as “the ship had supported ground operations in Vietnam just weeks earlier and likely would've been sent back to the war zone after the exercise.”
The effort has even gained the support of politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who got involved in June 2015 following a push from his constituency.
Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, however, said that the Defense Department has determined that — because the incident happened outside official combat zones — the sailors “do not meet the established criteria for the inscription of their names on the wall,” adding:
“The deputy secretary of defense extensively reviewed information and records to make an informed decision.”
It's a harsh blow for parents like retired Navy Master Chief Lawrence Reilly Sr., whose son was killed aboard the USS Evans.
Reacting to the Pentagon's announcement, the 92-year-old World War II and Vietnam veteran said simply:
“I'm not happy with the whole thing. It's a bad deal.”
Proponents have argued that the Pentagon has made exceptions — such as for 58 servicemen who were killed when their transport plane crashed in Hong Kong — and allowed names to be added to the memorial in other cases.
The Pentagon has said that, instead, the names of those killed onboard the Evans will be honored in a separate section of the memorial, listed on a plaque in a planned education center of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Some, however, like Randy Henderson — whose brother was killed on the Evans — haven't given up hope, saying that he and other supporters are “still steadfast and moving ahead.”
The Memorial Wall itself — which is actually made up of two identical walls — stretches over 246 feet and contains the names of more than 58,000 fallen Americans.