Down Under, memories of another ‘Pearl Harbor’


No doubt the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor stands out as a critical turning point in our nation’s history. Next month, we mark the 70th anniversary, and the nation will join countless veterans and service members in recalling the sacrifice from that day and the amazing generation that stepped up and answered the nation’s call.

Such pivotal moments are shared by U.S. allies including the Australians, who are strengthening their ties and military relationship with the United States that goes back 60 years to World War II with an alliance that’s remained solid – and popular among U.S. sailors and Marines who get to visit the remote island continent.  Most recently, President Barack Obama announced a new rotation of Marines and Air Force units to Australian military training bases that will also see more U.S. ships visiting in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, and likely other liberty ports Down Under.

At the USS Peary memorial in Darwin, Australia, President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard pay respects to the 91 sailors who perished when the city was bombed in 1942. (AP photo)

Like our Pearl Harbor, the Aussies, too, had a pivotal moment during World War II when 260 Japanese fighters and dive bombers attacked Darwin, home to several key bases and communications stations, on Feb. 19, 1942. Although the Australian military was in the thick of the larger war, this was the first attack on Australian soil. Thick dark plumes of smoke rose over the city from oil storage tanks struck in the attack as soldiers and sailors manned anti-aircraft guns. Two Royal Australian Navy shipswere crippled in the harbor as the hulls exploded.  The attack killed as many as 252 troops and local civilians and left hundreds wounded. The bombing of Darwin remains a dark day in that nation’s history. Australia recently announced a new national day of observance to mark the attack.

The enemy aircraft that day also struck the USS Peary as it sat in Darwin’s harbor, off the Timor Sea, killing 91 sailors. On his recent visit, Obama laid a wreath at a memorial dedicated to the Peary, a site anchored by one of the ship’s four-inch guns recovered after the attack. The president met  Tony Duke, whose late father, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Melvin Duke, had survived the attack, received the Purple Heart medal and later had his remains buried at the wreckage site. His son provides a poignant recollection of his father and how he learned what he went through on that fateful day.


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