On the night of June 3, 1969 the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans (DD-754) was involved in a collision with the Royal Australian Navy aircraft carrier Melbourne in the South China Sea – an accident eerily similar to the U.S.S Hobson/U.S.S Wasp collision 17 years before. Flight operations were in progress on the Melbourne and the Evans was maneuvering into its correct position reference to the carrier. As in the Hobson incident, an error in judgement was made on the bridge of the Evans. The Melbourne struck Evans amidships, cutting her in half. The bow section of the Evans sank almost immediately, taking 74 of her crew to their deaths. One body was recovered, 73 were lost at sea. The photos at the top left show the Evans before and after the accident.
The whole story of the Evans can be found at the superb website of the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans (DD-754) Association: http://ussfrankeevansassociationdd754.org
Spend some serious time on this website. It is the finest website devoted to a single ship that I have ever seen, lovingly maintained by former members of the Evans crew during her long and proud history. She served in three wars with distinction. Her entire history is contained within the website. There are several memorials to the Evans’ lost souls in the United States, including one in Arlington National Cemetery. There is also a beautiful memorial in Australia.
There is one memorial to the Evans in the United States that personalizes the tragedy beyond all the others, however. It is not large in size. I doubt if it was designed by a professional artist or cost as much as the other Evans memorials. It is not on the beaten track either – it’s located on a plaza in a very small town called Niobrara, Nebraska.
Among the dead and forever lost at sea on that awful night in 1969 were three brother from Niobrara – Gary, Kelly and Gregory Sage. It was the worst single family toll in the U.S. Navy since the five Sullivan brothers were killed in the sinking of the U.S.S Juneau in 1942 near Guadalcanal. Even today, after four decades have passed, it’s difficult to comprehend the sense of loss that must have been felt by the brothers’ parents, the widow of one of the brothers, the immediate family, and the entire small Nebraska town that they called home.
The memorial is in two parts. One is a plaque that describes the accident. In front of and below the plaque, resting on the ground, is a simple granite block. On the front of that block are five words, one date, and a single oval photograph. The power of that photograph is how it humanizes the loss of all those souls that night. It’s hard to imagine a more powerful image on any memorial anywhere.
For more information on the Sage brothers and the 1999 dedication of this memorial, please visit the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans Association website and click their ‘News’ section. Under the same section you will find photographs of all the sailors who died that night and forever rest in the deep waters of the tropical Pacific.