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Hannah Ackerman has started a one-woman crusade to get 74 sailors of the USS Frank Evans killed in a ship-to-ship collision off Vietnam in 1969 added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.
CEDAR FALLS | It has been 45 years since 74 American sailors died when their ship was cut in two by an Australian carrier off the coast of Vietnam.
Their names aren't on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It's an oversight a young Cedar Falls woman has made it her mission to rectify.
Hannah Ackerman, a Cedar Falls High School graduate now attending Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, has won history awards for her presentations on two naval disasters. One is the loss of Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers during World War II. The other is the "missing 74" of the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War.
They were killed in a collision with the HMAS Melbourne June 3, 1969, during a training exercise.
If Ackerman has anything to say about it, the missing 74 will be missing no more from the wall. And she's had plenty to say on the subject.
She made a presentation to the AMVETS national convention in Memphis, Tenn., this year. Both that organization and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have passed resolutions supporting federal legislation to add the Evans crewmen to the wall. That legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate. Similar support resolutions are pending before other veterans groups.
State Sen. Jeff Danielson of Waterloo, a Navy veteran, and state Rep. Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls proposed similar legislation in the Legislature that is still in committee.
Ackerman connected with the Evans crew during their convention in Waterloo in 2011. She performed her one-woman play on the Sullivans, portraying the brothers' mother, Alleta Sullivan.
Moved by the story of the Evans crew, she crafted a similar play portraying the mother of three sons among the 74 sailors lost on that ship. In doing so, she learned a lot about the Evans' history, including the fact one of those killed was a relative on her mother's side -- Ronald Arthur Thibodeau.
"I learned about the amazing legacy and the bravery of the 199 survivors and the shocking truth that none of the 'Lost 74' names have ever been allowed on the Vietnam Wall," Ackerman said.
Only the names of soldiers killed by enemy fire and in the war zone are included on the wall. But the sailors aboard the Evans did support combat troops and were headed back to the war zone before the accident occurred.
"So a difference of about 100 miles keeps them from being honored," Ackerman said. "And there are no boundary lines for heroes, I say."
John Coffey of Commerce, Ga., is communications director of the USS Frank E. Evans Association. He served on the ship, though not at the time of the disaster. He said the group is grateful for Ackerman's efforts.
"Hannah's been a great influence everywhere she's been," Coffey said. "She's opened eyes. She's been working hard for us."