Ceremony honors Navy sailor who died in Vietnam War

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — Navy Seaman Frank Messier died when the ship he was on collided with another ship during the Vietnam War, but he was never recognized as a war hero until a ceremony Friday in Cumberland.

When Messier was just 20 years old, he and 73 others were killed when the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans collided with an Australian Navy ship in 1969. On Friday, his family took one step further in their push to have him and his fellow crewmates recognized for making the ultimate sacrifice.

“This is absolutely breathtaking,” Francis Messier reacted.

Messier’s oldest sister said her brother was denied a spot on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. because his death happened outside a combat zone.

Bill Thibeault, who was in a different part of the ship than Messier and survived the collision, said he’ll always remember his shipmate, known fondly as “Mess.”

“We will always remember, lest we forget,” he said.

Francis said her brother was a Cumberland High School graduate who played baseball and worked a paper route for the Pawtucket Times.

“In general, just a very kind, very kind and orderly brother,” she recalled.

The ceremony on Friday was one step towards finding closure, according to Francis.

“I could think of no better place for anybody to be laid to rest, but I’m so glad that my brother is,” she said. “His memory is here.”

Francis also said the next step is to continue their push to get Messier and his 73 fellow sailors’ names included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

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