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Sailor Reflects on Houston and Perth

Editor’s note: EMN1 Shaun Milender, a crewmember on the USS Houston (SSN 713), recently represented the U.S. Navy on board the HMAS Perth III, during at-sea ceremonies honoring the WWII crews of the USS Houston (CA 30) and HMAS Perth (D 29). The ships were lost in action during the Battle of Sunda Strait in Feb 28-March 1, 1942.

I recently got underway on an Australian ship, traveled almost 8000 miles, and even got seasick through a storm off the coast of West Australia. And it was my honor the pay respects to the men of the USS Houston (CA-30) and the HMAS Perth I during a wreath laying ceremony.

The story of what those men endured is not known to many. My understanding of the ceremony I was to be a part of was limited. Then, I read two books. “Ship of Ghosts,” is an incredible story of the perseverance and dedication of the men on the Perth and the Houston, written by James D. Hornfischer.  “Thunder Below” tells just some small stories of what the men who survived the sinking of the Perth and Houston and was written by CDR Gene Fluckey, a WWII Medal of Honor recipient and submariner hero. Their incredible battle for survival as they endured internment or being lost at sea while submarines roamed the seas seeking Japanese ships, made me truly appreciate why I was there.

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I cannot say enough how proud I was to be there with Lt. Sam Ward, laying wreaths for those men. Those men who fought until their guns were shooting practice shells, hoping to put a hole in a vast armada of Japanese ships. The men on both ships remained determined and tenacious, enduring unrelenting bombardment and streams of torpedoes. They fought on regardless of the overwhelming odds. That is the spirit that all Americans and Australians should strive for today, and one I was proud to represent and reflect on over their watery graves.

After laying a wreath over the side of The HMAS Perth III, and returning to Jakarta, Indonesia, I was grateful to have sailed with and gotten to know her crew. As she left to spend six months in sweltering heat of the Arabian Gulf, unrelenting seas, and unknown dangers from boarding parties or possibly even pirates. But I knew I was leaving the ship in the capable hands of many brave men and women willing to do the job not many are willing to do, just as we spend six months or longer doing the same for our great nations.

I want to thank the crew of the HMAS Perth III for their hospitality, the crew on today’s USS Houston for giving me the opportunity, and the American Embassy for all the work they do in keeping the graves of all those men safe, remembered and respected.