Navy hero awarded for bravery in 1969

Published on Ms Simone Liebelt (author), SGT Pete Gammie (photographer)

Location(s): Navy Headquarters - South Australia

Topic(s): Commendation, HMAS Melbourne (II)

Commanding Officer Navy Headquarters - South Australia, Commander Andrew Burnett, RAN, (left) presents Mr Lew Farkas, former RAN Sailor, the US Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. (photo: SGT Pete Gammie)
Commanding Officer Navy Headquarters - South Australia, Commander Andrew Burnett, RAN, (left) presents Mr Lew Farkas, former RAN Sailor, the US Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

A former Royal Australian Navy sailor who has been awarded for his bravery in the aftermath of a tragic accident 50 years ago will never forget the fear he experienced that fateful morning.

Able Seaman Radar Plotter Lew Farkas was on board HMAS Melbourne (II) in the early hours of 3 June 1969 when the USS Frank E Evans collided with the Royal Australian Navy aircraft carrier after crossing her bow in the South China Sea.

The US destroyer was cut in half and sank, resulting in the loss of 74 US sailors.

“I don’t remember how I even got on to the Evans as it all happened very quickly, but I do remember being scared witless going below decks in the dark looking for survivors,” Mr Farkas said.

“The forward half of Evans had already sunk and the after half was slowly starting to sink but was still afloat, so we only had minutes to try and help the sailors left on board, who were either injured or in shock. 

“I went below looking for anyone left behind, and the lower deck was already under water. I couldn’t see a thing, so as I was wading through the water I didn’t know if things floating into me were bodies or what.

“I went as far as I could go and called out for anyone but no one answered so I got out of there as quickly as I could. After the search the Evans was allowed to sink.”

In recognition of his quick and courageous actions, Mr Farkas, of Mannum, east of Adelaide, was last month awarded a US Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal at Navy Headquarters - South Australia.

Commanding Officer of Navy Headquarters - South Australia, Commander Andrew Burnett said he was thrilled to be part of the special occasion.

“It was an honour to present the award to Mr Farkas, which he earned half a century ago.

“His incredible story of bravery was in the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy,” Commander Burnett said.

Mr Farkas was among 18 former Royal Australian Navy officers and sailors to be awarded US medals for their actions following the collision.