The Naval Chapel at Sydney’s Garden Island Naval Base and the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour have hosted a moving memorial service for the American crewmen who lost their lives aboard the USS Frank E Evans following a collision with Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) on 3 June 1969.
74 US sailors lost their lives in the collision, which was the second time a destroyer operating in close company with the Royal Australian Navy aircraft carrier crossed her bow, resulting in significant loss of life and the sinking of the destroyer.
Director of Strategic & Historical Studies at the Sea Power Centre, Mr John Perryman said that the Melbourne-Frank E Evans incident impacted the Royal Australian Navy even though the aircraft carrier was found not to be at fault.
“The disaster deeply affected those involved, especially the families of those who were killed,” Mr Perryman said.
The disaster came a year after another incident put the US-Australian relationship under strain: when the destroyer HMAS Hobart (II) was accidentally fired upon by US Air Force jets while serving in the war zone in Vietnamese waters, killing two Royal Australian Navy sailors and wounding seven.
“In both tragedies, the importance of the relationship and alliance triumphed with each nation taking significant steps to ensure that no such accident would occur again,” Mr Perryman said.
Eighteen former Royal Australian Navy officers and sailors have been approved for awarding of United States medals for their actions following the collision, including the late Lieutenant Commander Colin Patterson, MBE, RAN (Rtd), whose wife Rosemary and daughter Wendy were present to accept the award.
The court martial of Melbourne’s commanding officer, Captain JP Stevenson, RAN was controversial and although he was eventually cleared of blame, it effectively ended his career.
Many years later in December 2012, Captain Stevenson received an official apology from Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, in which he stated that Stevenson was not treated fairly by the government of the day or the Australian Navy following the events of 1969.
The Minister added that Captain Stevenson was “…a distinguished naval officer who served his country with honour in peace and war.”
Following Stevenson’s death in January this year, he was farewelled with a full naval funeral at Garden Island Naval Chapel, Sydney on 15 February 2019.
The memorial service in Sydney coincided with two days of memorial events for the USS Frank E Evans in the USA, in Long Beach, California.