Australian seaside town welcomes US Marines with open arms during massive exercise
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 23, 2019
BOWEN, Australia — Locals and vacationers in this small Australian town were eager to get to know U.S. Marines patrolling their streets this week as part of the biennial Talisman Sabre exercise.
The Marines made an amphibious landing at nearby Kings Beach on Monday alongside troops from Japan, Britain and Australia.
Dozens of locals perched on rocks along the coast watching the action, including Noel Yasso, 81, a former Australian army reservist who came to see his grandson, Joel Yasso, 27, an able seaman in the Royal Australian Navy.
The younger Yasso was aboard a landing craft carrying U.S. Marines and a bulldozer from Australia’s landing helicopter dock ship, the HMAS Adelaide, to the beach.
After the landing, the Marines moved into town to capture various objectives such as an aerodrome and a recreation area.
Gun-toting Americans in camouflage aren’t an everyday sight in Bowen although their presence was advertised by a large flashing sign on the road into town.
When a group of Marines parked their amphibious-assault vehicles in a park near the center of town, they drew a crowd of interested Australians.
Peter and Lynne Crew, on vacation from their home in Coffs Harbor, New South Wales, struck up a conversation with a group of young Marines.
“It’s all pretty impressive,” Peter Crew said as he checked out a 60mm mortar that the Marines had set up in the park.
Lance Cpl. Weston Harris, 22, of Estherville, Iowa, a member of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., chatted with the couple.
“It’s my first trip to Australia. I’ve had a good time so far,” he told them.
Marine Cpl. Jordan Greenlaw stood nearby holding a rugby ball.
“Some locals gave it to us,” he said. “They saw us throwing coconuts around and threw us the ball.”
Greenlaw said he’s watched rugby back in the States but never played it. Locals can watch the Bowen Seagulls play for $4, according to a sign at the team’s home ground.
Bowen retiree Barry Burton, who was also talking to the Marines, said their presence reassured him that Australia would be safe from threats such as Chinese communist influence and Islamic State terrorism in the Pacific.
“As far as I’m concerned, [the Marines] are always welcome,” he said.
Nearby, Marine Staff Sgt. Nathan Hanson, 30, of Asheville, N.C., showed off his M-4 rifle to a former Australian soldier, Shane Moir, of Lake Eildon, Victoria. Moir said it made him nostalgic for his days in uniform.
Another resident, Bob Freeman, 80, who retired to Bowen from London, England, flew the Stars and Stripes from a flagpole on his front porch to welcome the Marines.
The old timer recalled shouting out “Any gum, chum?” to passing American soldiers and getting thrown sweets when he was a child during World War II.
“If it wasn’t for the Americans, England wouldn’t be there,” he said. “It would be under Nazi rule. Australia wouldn’t be here. It would be under the Japanese.”
Bowen, home to about 10,000 people, is part of the Whitsunday Region, which has an economy built on horticulture, sugar cane, coal mining and tourism.
PBY Catalina flying boats, charged with searching for enemy ships and submarines, were based at Bowen during World War II. The town’s modern-day airfield includes a display featuring the aircraft and a large model of the USS Lexington, which was sunk to the northeast during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox said he’d been looking forward to Talisman Sabre coming to Bowen.
“We had a smaller [Australian Defence Force] exercise last year,” he said. “The troops … are really well received by the community.”