50 years ago this week a maritime disaster killed 74 Americans.
An Australian aircraft carrier crashed into an American destroyer, about one hundred miles off the coast of Vietnam.
It’s a tragedy many don’t know about, but Albert Daniel Epperson knows it all too well, he was there.
In the summer of 1969, the USS Frank E. Evans was taken off the gun-lines in Vietnam and brought 100 miles away from combat.
She would join other ships from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Britain for joint exercises.
”Basically I guess you’d say a show of force had been ordered in to show Vietnamese or whoever that hey there’s a lot of people out here who aren’t happy with you and if they all decided to take you on you haven’t got a prayer,” Albert Daniel Epperson
During those exercises planes from the HMAS Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier, were taking off.
After midnight on June 3rd, they came back into the land, this meant the Frank E. Evans had to change formation.
”The carrier would go on, you would make a turn, always away from the carrier,“ said Epperson. ”Don’t ever turn into that boy because he can’t move, you got to move out of his way.”
But a miscommunication put the Frank E. Evans right in the path of the Melbourne.
No warning was given to the sleeping sailors.
Epperson just happened to wake up to go to the restroom.
”Next thing I know I flew,” said Epperson. “It threw me backwards this way and through a passageway over there, about 30 feet from where I was standing.”
Injuring his hand in the process.
”My hand was actually turned upside down and backwards,” said Epperson
Most were saved but 74 sailors lost their lives that morning, including three brothers.
A father and son were also on board, the son did not survive.
After being rescued the sailors were eventually brought home to Long Beach to ungrateful crowds.
“A teenage girl came up, looked up to me, spit on me and said ‘baby killer!’” said Epperson.
Most of the survivors arrived with no one waiting on them, families had not been notified.
No one knew what had happened.
A local reporter at the port was puzzled by this.
“He said, ‘man, they didn’t give us any time, nobody told us y’all were coming. How come they don’t let us know these things?’ It’s like, you’re asking us? They sent a plane, picked us up and here we are.”
Over time Epperson didn’t give his ordeal much thought.
But as the years went on the weight of what happened dawned on him, and he started attending reunions and doing his own research on the incident.
“We lost 74 people through no fault of their own,” said Epperson.
”They were there defending their country and to me it’s like, you should always remember that.“