Washington -- The incident a few days ago, in which an American president without provocation disrespected an Austrialian prime minister in their first conversation, recalls another event forty-nine years ago when U.S. airplanes actually attacked an Australian ship, HMAS Hobart, in the South China Sea.
I served in the U.S. Navy on ships operating in the South China Sea and remember HMAS Hobart well. My first ship, USS Rainier, replenished Hobart at sea in 1967. Hobart assisted in fighting the disastrous fire aboard USS Forrestal that same year, providing fire-fighting equipment and transferring her surgeon to Forrestal to try to save the injured. We on Rainier had been scheduled to replenish Forrestal but instead passed her quietly the night after the fire, as she steamed toward port at Subic Bay.
In June of 1968, aboard USS Arlington, I remember being in the same area as HMAS Hobart and USS Edson, near Tiger Island off the Vietnam DMZ. We were providing communications to so-called Market Time operations along the coast when the nearby ships came under attack around midnight. Arlington was not hit; Hobart was struck by missiles in repeated attacks. When daylight came, missile fragments showed that the source of the attack was friendly fire from the U.S. 7th Air Force. The toll: two dead and many injured aboard HMAS Hobart.
Coincidence: LCDR John McCain narrowly escaped death on Forrestal in 1967; Senator John McCain called the Australian ambassador in 2017 to try to repair the damage caused by insulting language to Australia from an American president.
Australia has been a faithful ally, a fast friend of America through good times and bad, and deserves only expressions of regret from Americans for both entirely avoidable incidents.