A group of officers and sailors of HMAS Stuart had the honour of representing the Royal Australian Navy at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of World War II.
Members of the local community attending the ceremony greeted the 20-person party enthusiastically with handshakes, waves, words of gratitude and countless selfies.
Among the hundreds attending the event at MacArthur Landing Memorial were three Australian veterans who were involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf; Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths, AO, DSO, DSC, RAN (Ret), David Mattiske and Leonard Roy McLeod.
For Rear Admiral Griffiths, it was his first return since he served as fo’c’sle officer and in an air defence position in HMAS Shropshire in the battle he called ‘lively’.
“The overwhelming welcome that everyone has given us has been incredible,” Rear Admiral Griffiths said.
“It’s a unique honour. I never would have thought on 20 October 1944 that 75 years later I’d be back to have a look ashore to see why we did what we did.”
The ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Leyte Landing - and the famous return of US General Douglas MacArthur - was attended by Filipino, American, Australian and Japanese officials.
Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Gabrielle Singe was among the group representing Stuart at the event.
“It was an experience I’d never had before - we felt like royalty and celebrities but really we were just normal people doing our jobs,” Leading Seaman Singe said.
“I didn’t know a lot about the battle and the importance of this region until we were on the way here; now I feel lucky to be here as a member of the Australian Navy to mark this anniversary.”
The Australians were thanked for their role in liberating Leyte - 4000 Australians took part in the battle, and 30 were killed, including Captain Emile Dechaineux, when a Japanese dive-bomber struck HMAS Australia.
For Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Darren Cruz, visiting the Leyte memorial was fulfilment of a life goal - his Filipino grandfather had once told him that the MacArthur Landing Memorial was the most special place a Filipino could visit.
“I got goosebumps when I saw the memorial,” Seaman Cruz said.
“I am so blessed to be here as part of Stuart, on my first deployment, visiting this important place to commemorate a part of history.”
Commander Luke Ryan, Commanding Officer of Stuart, said it was an honour to represent Australia at the 75th anniversary ceremonies.
“The Battle of Leyte Gulf was of huge significance, and it has meant a lot to myself and the ship’s company to be part of the commemorations and to be so warmly embraced by the community,” Commander Ryan said.
The ships are in the region as part of two task groups taking part in multinational exercises and regional engagement activities across Northern and Southern Asia.
Task group ships will visit Guam, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam during their deployment.