SUNDA STRAIT - Senior officials from the United States, Australia and Indonesia paid their respects to the crews of USS Houston (CA 30) and HMAS Perth (D 29) during a wreath laying ceremony March 1, commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the Word War II Battle of Sunda Strait.
In the early morning of March 1, 1942, the cruisers Houston and Perth were sunk by the Japanese Imperial Navy in the Sunda Strait, about 60 nautical miles from Jakarta, Indonesia. During the battle, in which both ships fought to the last of their fuel and ammunition, 696 U.S. Sailors and Marines aboard Houston and 375 Australian sailors aboard Perth, including the captains of both ships, lost their lives. The wrecks remain their final resting places as war graves beneath the sea.
"I have had the privilege of meeting several relatives of Houston personnel who continue to visit Indonesia to remember and honor their lost relatives," said U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake. "They remind us of our duty to protect war graves such as these, here and all over the world. We thank our Indonesian partners for their commitment to do so," he added.
The commemoration featured two wreath-laying ceremonies aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) and the Royal Australian Navy Armidale-class patrol boat HMAS Larrakia (ACPB 84). Civilian and military representatives from Australia, Indonesia and the United Kingdom attended the ceremony on Sampson, including Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson.
"Australia continues to work closely with Indonesian authorities to ensure this site is properly preserved as a mark of respect for those sailors of all nations who died. This is a war grave which represents the importance of our enduring friendship with the Indonesian people," said Grigson.
Two Indonesian navy (TNI-AL) patrol boats escorted the multinational formation through the very waters that Houston and Perth sailed from Jakarta en route to Australia via the Sunda Strait 73 years before.
"We remember those ships today and the many service members across the region who lost their lives during World War II," said Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Task Force 73. "Today is also about honoring our longstanding alliance with Australia and our growing partnership with the Indonesian navy. That partnership was on full display during a bilateral diving survey of the Houston wreck last summer and continues to help us protect the dignity of these sites today," he added.
Among the Indonesian delegation was Rear Adm. Hutabarat, commander of the Western Fleet Sea Battle Group. Hutabarat and Williams were classmates at the recent Naval War College Combined Force Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC) Flag Officer Course at U.S. Pacific Fleet's headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
"Every navy has their own tradition in how they honor their heroes who have lost their lives at sea," said Hutabarat. "Because these ships rest in our territorial waters, it was very special for us to remember them along with representatives from the U.S. and Australian navies."
During the ceremony, Sampson's crew manned the rails in their dress white uniforms as salutes were rendered and wreaths were lowered from the aft quarterdeck into the water above the wreckage of each ship. An American flag was presented to Dana Charles, vice president of the Houston Survivors Association, who represented the families as an honored guest. All hands then rendered honors to Larrakia as her crew lowered another wreath while passing alongside.
Following the ceremony, Sampson and Larrakia proceeded into Jakarta for a port visit. The commemoration at sea and port visit marked Sampson's return to Indonesia since supporting Indonesian-led search efforts for AirAsia flight QZ8501 along with the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in January.
"We were humbled and honored to be involved in the AirAsia search efforts," said Cmdr. Steve Foley, Sampson's commanding officer during a reception March 2. "We were leaving Singapore at the time of the tragedy and we all wanted to participate. The crew responded tremendously, and working with the Indonesian partners made it all possible."
Homeported in San Diego, USS Sampson is conducting an independent deployment to the Western Pacific in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.