Vietnam Veteran To Perform For A Cause In Mayville

Bill Thibeault

Bill Thibeault is a man on a nationwide mission.

As a musician, the Norwich, Conn. resident has shared the stage with such acts as The Cowsills, James Montgomery, Rick Derringer and other artists. However, Thibeault will be performing his concerts for a lifelong mission for himself and 74 other families for the next two months.

Thibeault served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972 during the final years of the Vietnam War. But his time in the military is marred by an incident that occurred in his years of service. It was also the worst Naval disaster to have taken place during the war.

On June 3, 1969, the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans was stationed in the South China Sea. Along with navy ships from Australia, England, and New Zealand the Evans was participating in a training exercise dubbed “Operation Sea Spirit.” The practice took place 100 miles from Gulf of Tonkin and the official Vietnam War combat zone. More than 40 ships took part in the operation.

The Evans was escorting the Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier to the exercise.

However, the mission was never completed.

While trying to change its position 1,000 yards to the rear of the Melbourne, the Evans accidentally crossed into the Melbourne’s path. The Melbourne crashed into the Evans, cutting it in half. Only the rear portion of the ship remained afloat.

Thibeault survived the incident by being awoken from his bunk of the Evans.

“I was sleeping in the back half and was thrown awake,” he said. “I got up to the deck just in time to see the front half was sinking.”

The front section of the ship, the stern, sunk in almost three minutes. In total, 74 servicemen lost their lives in the collision.

Since the incident, numerous efforts have been made by members of Congress and the family members of the 74 to have them recognized on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington by executive order.

However, the efforts have met resistance from the Pentagon and the National Park Service. The main argument is limitations on the wall and the fact that the incident occurred 100 miles from the combat zone.

Recently, the efforts to have the names of the 74 recognized came closer than ever before. In 2018, the House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that required the 74 to be added. Unfortunately that bill was defeated in the Senate in July.

It was at this time that Thibeault became very frustrated. Upon hearing that news, it was also painful for him as the 50th anniversary of the crash was fast approaching.

“It was so agonizing to know it was that close,” Thibeault said.

It was at that moment that Thibeault said he had get out the story of the 74 servicemen in song. The result was a song that commemorates the occasion called “Recognition.”

“I made a vow 50 years ago to never forget and I am still not, but I realized I needed to do more,” Thibeault said.

Thibeault was also inspired to educate the public using his talents as a musician. Between May 11 and June 30, he will be touring across the country and performing concerts to raise awareness of the Evans and the 74. His tour will be called the Recognition Tour.

Among his stops will be Butler, Pa., South Bend, Ind., Des Moines, Albuquerque, N.M. and Nashville, Tenn. before attending the 50th Anniversary Reunion in Long Beach, Calif. on June 3. The city was the home base of the Evans. After the celebration, Thibeault will be performing at other locations to be determined while going home to Connecticut. Each stop on the tour is planned to be in the home towns and cities of the 74. However, Thibeault said that his motivations are very simple at the core.

“I’m doing it because I can,” Thibeault said. “I made a promise to never forget and I use my music to express concern.”

Mayville will be the second stop of the tour. There, Thibeault will performing at Big Inlet Brewing at 5 p.m. on May 16.

Theibeault will also be selling CDs of his music to support awareness of the Evans.

This stop is planned to be in proximity to Westfield and is of special meaning to Big Inlet co-owner, Randy Henderson. His brother Terry lived in Westfield and was one of the 74 to perish in the Evans collision.

“I am very passionate about getting their names on the wall and happy to have Bill here,” he said.

Thibeault’s music can be found on Spotify and iTunes.

To learn more about the men who served on the Evans visit ussfee.org.