As the bombing of Darwin was re-enacted on Tuesday with air raid sirens, guns and fighter planes, three men out of about 2000 watching could have verified how real it was.
Veterans Brian Winspear, Basil Stahl and Mervyn Ey, all aged in their late 90s, were there for the bombing 77 years ago in what was the largest ever foreign attack on Australia.
For Mr Winspear, 99, the trip to Darwin from Hobart saw the former flight lieutenant realise a decades-long campaign to get recognition for his mates from the 2 and 13 Hudson Bomber RAAF squadrons, many of whom he saw die.
He unveiled a plaque at the Cenotaph honouring his comrades who he says were recognised at the time with a US presidential citation for bravery.
The two squadrons were in Darwin from 1941 to 1943 and lost 200 aircrew in that time - "three-quarters of us were wiped out," in Australia and fighting in Asia and death was cheap at the time, Mr Winspear told reporters.
"From my point of view there is some satisfaction for the relatives of all those 200 air crew, bear in mind their average age was only 22," he said.
"I think I worked it out that every week, there were 3 fatalities for nearly two years."
Two attacks on February 19 involved 242 Japanese aircraft bombing Darwin, killing more than 240 people, and were the first and largest of more than 100 air raids against Australia during 1942-43.
Mr Winspear's memories of the Darwin bombing are clear, from jumping into trenches before he had time to feel scared and then the reality of it all and seeing "the sun shine over 200-300 bombs directly overhead".
"From the trenches you could see the (Japanese) pilots faces when they were coming down and bombing the hangars, they seemed to be enjoying themselves," he said.
There were bomb craters all around him, his ears were hurting, bomb "splinters" were in his hand and eye, he said.
He raced into the bush to hide with a mate for a while before they came back to find the area deserted.
The war and his time in the air force represented five years of his life and cost him his girlfriend and university, he said.
However he went on to have a family including 17 great grandchildren and a successful career, establishing businesses in various industries, a chain of hotels and tourism on Tasmania's east coast around Bicheno.
He plans to fly in a Lockheed Hudson Bomber - which the RAAF used during the war - one more time.
On his 100th birthday.
Australian Associated Press