Fallen veteran finally honored nearly 50 years later

Fallen veteran finally honored nearly 50 years later

Cumberland family still fighting to get names of ‘Lost 74’ on Vietnam Veterans Memorial

CUMBERLAND – U.S. Navy Seaman Frederic C. Messier Jr., a Cumberland native, was aboard the USS Frank E. Evans off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea when the ship collided with an Australian aircraft carrier on June 3, 1969, snapping the smaller American boat in half.

Messier, along with 73 other men on the American vessel, were lost at sea that day, but for the families left behind at home, the grief would continue decades later and many questions would go unanswered – like why the men were never listed as U.S. fallen heroes on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., what happened the day the ships collided and why the USS Frank E. Evans was outside of the designated combat zone at the time of the collision around 3 a.m. that June morning.

“They were not considered casualties of war,” said Anne White, Messier’s sister, who lives in the Cumberland home their family grew up in.

“Their lives did matter,” she said, brushing away tears.

“They loved, they were loved and they were there because it was their duty to be there,” she said. White spoke with anger and defeat about the way the situation has been handled, almost 50 years later.

To date, her brother has not been officially recognized as a hero of war, and it wasn’t until this year that a ceremony has been scheduled to celebrate his service.

On Friday, May 20, Messier will be honored locally at the Resurrection Cemetery off West Wrentham Road in Cumberland, where a stone from the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association Inc. will be placed in his memory. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Mayor Bill Murray and more than 80 other attendees are expected to visit the cemetery that day at 2 p.m. to pay their respects, said Joanne Messier-Derosier, Messier’s youngest sister. Messier-Derosier now lives in Seminole, Fla., and will fly in for the ceremony.

Murray, a veteran himself, told The Breeze, “If we can’t honor our own veterans that fought for our freedom, whatever category they’re in, whatever conflict they’re in, then something’s wrong with this country, and unfortunately, sometimes that goes unnoticed.” The mayor said he plans to talk about Messier and the rest of the men that made up the “Lost 74” in his speeches on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“He lived here, he mattered here … this is where we grew up, and this is where he would’ve come home to – well, he’s coming home,” White said.

Messier was one of seven children and was the first-born son in the family, born Dec. 23, 1948. It was August of 1963 that the children’s father, Frederic C. Messier, died, leaving Frederic C. Messier Jr. to fall into the role of “man of the house,” White said. Her brother was about 15 years old at the time.

“To me, he was as much an adult as an adult could be,” said White, who turned to him as a mentor and considered him mature for his age. He was a member of Boy Scout Troop 50, played baseball, worked on a paper route to distribute newspapers to what was considered the “Cumberland Terrace” and did construction work.

It was 1966 when Messier graduated from Cumberland High School. He and his high school sweetheart, then-Joyce Cinieri, now Joyce Gois, had plans to get married in December of 1969, the year the ship sank with Messier onboard.

Before Messier enlisted in the U.S. Navy, White remembered hearing conversations between her brother and mother, Anna. Messier had a low enough number that he knew he’d be drafted.

The mother and son discussed options. “He would have a better opportunity in the Navy to see places and get a little bit of combat duty, but not be like boots on the ground,” White recalled of those conversations. At the time he enlisted, White said, the Navy wasn’t in the Vietnam War, a battle she called “unpopular.”

Messier enlisted with his childhood friend, David Forant who lived in Cumberland, and the two traveled to boot camp at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. The duo was told they’d stay together, White said, but was split up after boot camp. That was the last time the Messier family heard from Forant. “I think he is broken,” White said, explaining the Messier family made multiple failed attempts to get in contact with him.

“I think that may be part of his pain, survivor’s guilt,” White said.

“He’s always been, for all these years, on our mind,” she said.

Messier came home for a surprise visit in March 1969 before he deployed. That was the last time he would see his family. It was June 2, 1969, on United States East Coast time when one of Messier’s sisters, Francis, turned on the evening news. Walter Cronkite announced there was a collision at sea involving the Frank E. Evans.

“We really didn’t know anything else for about three days,” White said, when Messier was listed as missing.

It was about a full day until the survivors could call home, White explained, but Messier would not make that phone call.

The ship he was on was ordered to take gunfire support to U.S. Marines on the ground, White explained, and was one of many ships that were ordered to complete a “show of force” maneuver en route to where U.S. Marine groups were based.

The details of the mission, she said, are unknown. The documents from the day before, day of and “several days after,” White said, are missing.

She said “there was such a shroud over it, we don’t know why.”

Those are answers White said she and her sister, Derosier, gave up on. “That ship sailed a long time ago,” White said, but until the men of the “Lost 74” are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, she said, the U.S. government has not done its job.

“Our guys did,” she said.

With the help of Tyrone Smith, the Veterans Affairs Coordinator for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the family was able to finally set a time and place to honor their brother in their own way at the Resurrection Cemetery.

White invites anyone to attend the ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. She spoke of her fallen brother and parents watching over the crowd that is expected to gather that day. It’s an honor, she said, that Messier has deserved all these years.

“Now he gets his honor. Now this is his celebration. This is his ‘hey buddy … thanks for your service’ … something that this country did not do for any of them.”

Messier would have been 67 years old.

Comments

Thank you to the family members of this fine man. We all appreciate the sacrifice he made and it's high time we recognized him for making the ultimate sacrifice. RIP, sailor.

And, Mr. Ward - can you remove the spam post above? It's entirely out of order.

What was he even doing there in the first place? We weren't attacked by Vietnam (now we do business with them). God bless, Mr. Messier and family, if the idiots in charge at the time knew what they were doing he might be enjoying his grandchildren today.

Honor him, he paid the ultimate price for the stupidity of the times and this does not diminish his sense of duty at all.