Only one Australian Serviceman is buried at Arlington National Cemetery
In 2001, my wife Denise and I were invited by our Embassy to fly to Washington DC. to attend a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday the 10th. of September.
I had been sunk whilst serving as a 20 year old Sub Lieutenant RAN in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island on the 9th. of August 1942. When that fight started, I was her Officer of the Watch on the bridge, we lost 84 Officers and Sailors with a further 109 wounded. Our Allies in the US Navy had a 1,000 sailors die that night as their three heavy cruisers Quincy, Astoria, and Vincennes were all sunk, at that time it was the worst blue water defeat ever suffered by the US Navy.
President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that a new heavy US cruiser be named USS Canberra, when she was launched by Lady Alice Dixon the wife of the then Australian Minister to Washington, Sir Owen Dixon, who was later the Chief Justice of the Australian High Court. After USS Canberra converted to a missile cruiser she served in the Vietnam conflict, and in May of 1957, was alongside Station Pier at Port Melbourne on her one visit to Australia.
On Mother's Day, my son Raymond was christened on board her, the ship's bell was struck from the mainmast tobe inverted and serve as the font for that ceremony. Lady Dixson and Captain Edwin Rosenberg USN became his Godparents. USS Canberra was struck from the Navy Register and I had long cherished the hope of obtaining the Canberra Bell ( now some where in storage as an artifact ) to be presented to us and then to be suitably displayed in an Australian Maritime Museum.
Tracing the Bell.
On to 2001.
Washington Navy Yard, Monday the 10th. of September 2001.
At a presentaion marked by pomp and ceremony, a full guard of Navy men and Marines, a 19 gun salute to our Prime Minister ( actually the first time John Howard and George W. Bush had ever met ) and we were VIP guests sitting in the front row. Both the President and my PM graciously mentioned my presence in their speeches.
Although we were told it was unlikely we would meet the President, he suddenly left the dais, with John Howard trailing in his wake, was fast approaching us with his hand extended. Denise said " The President is coming down to meet us." rushing to one side clutching our camera to record such an historic meeting.
On arriving, the President shaking my hand said " It's an honour to meet you SIR! " I stammered back a reply, as George W. Bush rushed off after Denise, to take her arm saying " Come on, you are going to be in this photograph." The President relieved her of the camera, gave it to a Three Star Marine General, wagged a finger at him saying: " Take a photograph!"
So it happened.
Invitation from our Prime Minister.
Pilot Officer Francis Milne, RAAF.
This information was researched, and then located, due to a number of inquiries received from Australian citizens in November 1997. As far as can be determined, he is the only Australian thus far buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
It is reported that in 1997 the Prime Minister of Australia visited the gravesite during an official trip to Washington.
We were now stuck in Washington, and on Wednesday the 12th. of September, Rear Admiral Simon Harrington RAN, in charge of the Australian Embassy Defence Mission, hosted a lunch in our honour. He informed us that we were both booked to return home to Melbourne, on American Airlines Flight 77, the one that was crashed into the Pentagon by terrorists killing all on board.
John Howard's timely invitation to join him in his proposed visit to the Arlington National Cemetery had saved our lives.
We flew out of Washington's Dulles Airport on the following Saturday, the first day aircraft flew again in the United States, and on an American Airlines flight to Los Angeles, thence by Qantas to Melbourne. It was wonderful to be safely home again, after what nearly proved fatal.
Thanks to the Prime Minister.