By Luke Voogt
A shell exploding on the HMAS Perth (II) was “millimetres” from killing Newcomb veteran Pete Johnston off Vietnam in October 1967.
The ship was bombarding targets along the coast when an enemy artillery battery fired back.
“We were the last Australian warship to be hit by enemy fire and it was just luck that only a few people were injured,” Mr Johnston said.
“They fired hundreds of shells – by god they were close.”
One hit, punching through the deck and exploding in the reinforced steel confidential books vault, which contained most of the blast.
“One millimetre further and we would have had 20 or 30 killed,” Mr Johnston said.
After leaving the navy, he has dedicated decades to various naval organisations and volunteering in Geelong, which this week earned him an Order of Australia Medal.
He is vice-president of the Ex-Prisoners of War and Relatives Association Victoria, a group he joined after meeting surviving POWs from the original HMAS Perth, which the Japanese sunk off Indonesia in World War II.
“They’re the bravest men on Earth,” he said.
“We have one left now, who’s 101 and lives in Sydney, so it was time for a few of my generation to step up to keep the memory of these people alive.
“We enjoy the greatest living conditions in the world in Australia. It has to be remembered why.”