THE 50th anniversary of the tragic collision between the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and the US destroyer USS Frank E Evans has been commemorated in California.
Two Shoalhaven men, Jim Lyall and Ian "Spike" Jones, who were onboard the Melbourne on that fateful June 3 morning in 1969, made the trip to Long Beach, which was the Evans's home port, to mark the 50th anniversary.
The two ships were participating in SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) exercise Sea Spirit in the South China Sea when the collision occurred around 3am.
Evans (DD 754) had been ordered to a new escort station but sailed under Melbourne's bow, where she was cut in two.
Seventy-four of Evans's 273 member crew were killed.
Mr Jones was an aircraft maintainer and Mr Lyall was in the stores also for the 805 Squadron Skyhawks.
"I was asleep when the collision happened," Mr Jones said.
"I remember hearing the 'Hands to collision stations ' - the old bloke on the bunk under me just muttered 'Oh no not again!'.
"When I got up on deck it was a shock - It was around 3.15am and I saw the bow of the Evans sink.
"It was bright moonlight and was right there.
"It just went down so quickly - 74 men were lost - the poor buggers were trapped inside.
"The stern was tethered to our ship to keep it from going under."
The Aussie crew helped rescue a number of US survivors - there were even reports of RAN personnel jumping off the flight deck to help rescue some of the US sailors in the water.
Around 300 people attended the 50th commemorations including US survivors, as well as around 20 Aussie veterans and their partners, and members of other ships who helped in the rescue.
"It was a great event and a very fitting way to mark the 50th anniversary and the loss of those 74 men," Mr Jones said.
Mr Jones was accompanied on the trip by his wife Kathleen
"The Americans class us as survivors because we were part of the collision, even though none of us were injured to any great degree," he said.
"They were extremely grateful for what we all did after the collision.
"Some of the guys who make the trip regularly are just like part of the furniture now.
"They were just so welcoming. They welcomed us with open arms and couldn't do enough for us.
"It was quite humbling.
"I'm just so glad we went. It was a very moving ceremony capped off by the reading of Rolf Buchner's poem The Turn."
Mr Lyall is among a group of Australians who have regularly made the trip back to the US to commemorate the anniversary.
"I found it very moving and emotional," he said.
"I've travelled over many times for reunions but this was very special."
Another local Renald Makila was also onboard the Melbourne and although he didn't go to the US for the 50th anniversary, vividly remembers the collision and the aftermath.
"I too can remember seeing the bow sink," he said.
"It was terrible. The Evans was virtually cut in half."
The push continues in the US for the sailors killed in the collision to be included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.
Because it was a training accident, that happened about 100 miles from the combat zone the victims weren't recognised