ALBANY, N.Y. — Lawrence Reilly Sr. barely survived the 1969 collision that sent half of the USS Frank E. Evans to the bottom of the South China Sea with his namesake son and 73 other shipmates trapped inside. The father spent the last years of his life unsuccessfully trying to convince the Pentagon to add those 74 names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Reilly, a retired U.S. Navy master chief, died Wednesday at a Syracuse hospital from complications from pneumonia, according to his daughter, Luanne Oda, of Syracuse. He was 93.
Reilly and Lawrence Jr. were aboard the Evans when the destroyer was cut in half by an Australian aircraft carrier during a training exercise in the South China Sea in early June 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War.
The elder Reilly survived when the ship’s rear half remained afloat. His son and 73 other sailors went down with the forward section.
The Pentagon has said the victims aren’t eligible inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because they died outside the designated war zone.
Oda said her father, who also served in World War II, had pushed for years, with the help of fellow surviving shipmates, relatives of the victims and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, to convince the Pentagon that the victims of the Evans sinking deserved to be added to the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington.
“I’m just very sad he didn’t get see the day when they are on the wall,” Oda told The Associated Press. “But we’re going to keep fighting for it. They deserve it.”
Schumer, the Senate minority leader, mentioned Reilly’s death from the chamber’s floor Thursday and praised the veteran’s efforts on behalf of his lost son and shipmates.
“In his honor, we will continue to pressure the Pentagon to recognize the Frank E. Evans on the Vietnam Memorial,” Schumer said.
The Evans supported ground operations in Vietnam just weeks before it was cut in two by HMAS Melbourne in early June 1969. But Pentagon officials have said that the Evans victims are precluded from being added to the wall because the accident occurred outside the Vietnam combat zone.
“I’m not happy with the whole thing. It’s a bad deal,” Reilly told the AP a year ago this month after the Pentagon rejected the latest of several requests to add the names to the wall.
Among the other victims were the three Sage brothers — Gary, Gregory and Kelly — of Niobrara, Nebraska.
In addition to Oda, Reilly is survived by two other sons and another daughter.
Oda said a private funeral service will be held Sunday at a Syracuse funeral home. Her father’s ashes will be placed next to a memorial marker for his son at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, where both father and son served.