It's been more than four decades since Steve Kraus, a signalman aboard the USS Frank E. Evans, survived an early morning accidental collision with the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne.
Now Kraus is on a new mission: to get the names of the 74 sailors who died in the June 3, 1969 accident added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Legislation to commemorate the sailors first surfaced in 2001, but the idea has yet to win full approval from the Congress or the Pentagon. A House-approved bill to put the men on the memorial is moving forward, though it's not a done deal.
Kraus says the campaign to add the names of the "Lost 74" to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been steady and principled. "We didn't know that their names weren't on the wall. We didn't find it out until, all of the sudden, we ran across relatives who said, ‘Hey, I've been to the Wall and my son's not there,’" he explained.
"We started to ask the questions why, and the answer's always been the same from the [US Department of Defense]: That a) they weren't in the defined combat zone, and b) it wasn't an action resulting from a combat injury."
But Kraus points out that he and the USS Frank E. Evans were in the South China Sea and had earlier contributed to the Vietnam War effort.
"There was a huge offensive called Daring Rebel that occurred from May 5 to May 17, 1969, in which we provided gunfire support, and we received commendations for that," he said. "We had left that to go to Subic Bay to re-arm and then to join a [South East Asia Treaty Organization] operation."
Kraus pointed out that other names have been added to the memorial since it was erected. Like in 1983, when the names of 58 Marines were included. They were killed during the Vietnam War when their C-130 transport plane crashed near Hong Kong en route to Da Nang, outside of the Vietnam combat zone. Since the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 361 names have been added.
"We were performing support, we left the combat zone and, for all intents and purposes, we would have been going directly back to the combat zone. So that's been our case, and we're continuing to say that 'Hey, if you made exceptions in the past, then you need to make exceptions now.'"
Kraus said it would make a real difference to many families. “I've been involved with the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers for years and I see their pain. They don't have closure and they feel slighted that their son or brother is not recognized as all the other people who died for this war," he said.
"So it will be a very joyous occasion and sometimes we think about all of the no's, but the one yes will wipe all of that away. We know that we will have done this for the Lost 74, and we know that they will be commemorated as they so deserve."