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Family of RI sailor lost in Vietnam War fights to have his name listed on wall

U.S. Navy SH-3A Sea King helicopters from the USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) join search and rescue operations on June 2, 1969, over the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754), which was cut in two in a collision with an Australian aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.

U.S. NAVY

By DONITA NAYLOR | The Providence Journal, R.I. | Published: May 21, 2016

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — A memorial stone was unveiled and a tree dedicated Friday to honor a 20-year-old Cumberland sailor who was among 74 lost at sea in a naval accident in the Vietnam War.

Part of a nationwide effort to get the 74 names added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., the stone was placed by veterans, survivors and relatives of the men aboard the USS Frank E. Evans.

The destroyer was cut in half by an Australian aircraft carrier after a series of navigational mistakes in the South China Sea at about 3 a.m. on June 3, 1969. The front half of the ship sank in less than four minutes, and everyone sleeping in the forward section was lost.

About 100 people and the Navy Band Northeast gathered at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Cumberland to remember Frederic Conrad "Dick" Messier Jr., including two of his shipmates who survived the collision.

The dead were not counted as casualties of the Vietnam War, and thus not listed on the wall, because the maneuvers were 127 miles outside the combat zone. The Evans had been bombarding the coast of Vietnam and providing lights at night when it was assigned to help escort the Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier. The carrier and other destroyers in its escort rescued the men on the surviving half of the ship.

Five of Messier's six siblings attended, along with their children and grandchildren. His then-fiancée, Joyce Cinieri, now Gois and living in Pawtucket, described him after the ceremony as kind, gentle and "just a sweet, sweet person."

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse addressed the gathering, saying he was aware of the country's lack of gratitude to those who served in Vietnam, and the extra pain for relatives of those not recognized on the wall.

"I hope this is a solace," he said.

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©2016 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)
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