"John Howard 'saved my life on 9/11'" I was interviewed for the ABC News On LIne 10th Anniversary of 9/11
TK, I was interviewed for the ABC News On Line. Here is the link. Please add to Ahoy as convenient. Best, Mac.
Hi Mackenzie, Here’s a link to the story on you. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-07/mackenzie-gregory-on-september-11/2874622 As I said, some of our interview might pop up on ABC radio too. Thanks again for your time. You were very interesting to talk to – one of the best chats I’ve ever had in this job. All the best, Sarah Collerton
Mackenzie Gregory survived some of World War II's fiercest naval battles - but he would have died in the 9/11 attacks if it were not for John Howard.
The retired Royal Australian Navy lieutenant commander and his wife Denise were invited to Washington DC for a ceremony to mark the 50th ceremony of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty on September 10, 2001.
Mr Gregory, 89, who survived a ship's sinking and a kamikaze attack by Japanese suicide pilots in World War II, was mentioned in both George W Bush and John Howard's speeches that day.
"They said to us 'the president won't meet you' ... but after the ceremony [George Bush] came streaming down to meet us, with his hand out, followed by John Howard and said 'Well sir, it's an honour to meet you'. He was very charming," Mr Gregory told ABC News Online.
"He was wagging his finger at a marine general to take a photo of us four with our camera.
"As far as life goes, it was one of the great occasions to be there and meet the president."
But little did Mr Gregory know, it was actually the day before one of the infamous days in history - September 11, 2001.
But the visit never went ahead; America was under attack.
Instead of going to the cemetery, Mr Howard was taking shelter in a cellar under the Australian embassy, while the Gregorys were stuck in their hotel.
"It was very frightening. Washington just went mad. There were fire trucks, police cars everywhere, FBI, CIA, helicopters chopping around overhead. It was mayhem," Mr Gregory said.
You couldn't have any more luck than that.
Then Mr Gregory found out the impact Mr Howard's invitation had on his life.
"On September 12, we learned we had been booked on American Airlines Flight 77 [from Washington's Dulles airport] which crashed into the Pentagon without any survivors," Mr Gregory said.
"John Howard, by inviting us to visit Arlington, had caused us to be pulled off that flight and he thus saved our lives.
"It was an incredible experience. You couldn't have any more luck than that."
After 9/11, Mr and Mrs Gregory, who were anxious to get home to Australia, were stuck in Washington until planes starting flying again.
"While we were queuing up [at the airport] to go home on the Saturday, there was a huge wreath alongside the book-in area in memory of those who had died on Flight 77," he said.
"That really brought it home to us how lucky we had been."
'We'll continue to vote Liberal'
"He said: 'Yes, the embassy told me that. I'm glad that happened'," Mr Gregory recalled.
"We thanked him very much and said we'll continue to vote Liberal."
But it's not the first time Mr Gregory has cheated fate.
In 1942 he was serving on board HMAS Canberra when it was attacked by Japanese warships in the opening salvos of the Battle of Savo Island.
More than 80 Australian sailors died or were mortally wounded as Japanese shells slammed into the ship, which caught fire and was later scuttled.
"I was very fortunate," he said.
"It was 1.43am when it all started. I could see this big Japanese cruiser - there were six of them - plus a destroyer 3,000 yards away blasting us.
"I remember saying 'By God, this is bloody awful'.
Mr Gregory also came close to death in a kamikaze attack.
He witnessed more that 200 kamikaze attacks during World War II, but on January 6, 1945, one of the Japanese suicide planes was headed right for his ship.
"I looked up into the sun and there was this plane flying toward us," he said.
"We all flattened down on the deck and there was this big explosion. I was splashed and I thought it was fuel, but then I smelt it and realised it was saltwater.
"The kamikaze had been shot in half [by one of the ship's anti-aircraft gunners]; one half fell starboard and the other half fell port side. We were very lucky."
A former aide de camp to governor-general William McKell in the 1950s, Mr Gregory has rubbed shoulders with 14 prime ministers.
And while Robert Menzies left a big impression on him, he says it's Mr Howard who has to be his favourite.
Topics: september-11-attacks, unrest-conflict-and-war, defence-forces, united-states, vic, australia, melbourne-3000
First posted September 07, 2011 09:48:39