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 one of my visits to the US, I had traced the bell to a Naval Warehouse in Williamsburg, had it uncrated, and sought to obtain it for Australia, to be met with a brick wall, " By law, US artifacts may not be owned by foreigners. "

On to 2001.
In July 2001 I was visiting the US Ambassador to Australia on another subject, and I told him my Canberra Bell story, requesting him to use his good offices and get the Bell presented to Australia. He promised to help, but had but two more weeks in Australia before moving to his new post in Jordan.

Washington Navy Yard, Monday the 10th. of September 2001.
The Ambassador had moved both swiftly and effectively, the Canberra Bell, to mark the 50th, Anniversary of the signing of he ANZUS TREATY, was going to be presented by President George W. Bush to the Australian Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard MP. at the historic Washington Navy Yard on Monday the 10th. of  September 2001.

USS Canberra ships bell
USS Canberra ships bell, 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.

Photograph with President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister, John Howard
Photograph with President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, Mac, and Denise

Invitation from our Prime Minister.
Chatting to John Howard he said he was visiting the Arlington National Cemetery the next day to make a visit to the gravesite of the only Australian Serviceman buried at Arlington, and would we like to join him, an invitation we naturally accepted.

Pilot Officer Francis Milne, RAAF.
Pilot Officer Milne died on a World War II air mission on November 26, 1942. He was a member of a multinational flight crew whose remains were discovered in New Guinea in 1989. Since his remains, and those of the United States Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant (Joseph E. Paul), were individually unidentifiable, they were buried together in the same casket, in grave 4754, Section 34, Arlington National Cemetery.

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.

In Memory of
Royal Australian Air Force who died aged 25 on Thursday, 26th November 1942.
Pilot Officer MILNE was the son of Francis Rupert and Mignonette Milne;
husband of Nance May Milne, of Southport, Queensland.

Remembered with honour.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Virginia, United States of America.

Tuesday the 11th. of September.
Of course, the day we were due to join our PM at Arlington became the infamous 9/11, and this visit was cancelled, as Washington became a ghost city , and American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon killing all on board.

American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon
American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon

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.

Wreckageof AA Flight 77 on the Pentagon lawn
Wreckageof AA Flight 77 on the Pentagon lawn

Thanks to the Prime Minister.
On meeting the PM again I was able to say thank you to him for actually saving our lives, his response, " Oh yes! our Embassy in Washington told me about that."

Canberra Bell.
The Bell at last came to Australia, and is now displayed in the American Gallery at the National Maritime Museum Darling Harbour, Sydney.


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