THE day Japanese bombers first darkened Darwin's skies, Jack Mulholland of the 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery recalls being so under-prepared he and his mates did not know what their own guns sounded like when fired.
But 70 years after that first attack on Australian soil - the first of more than 60 Darwin endured during World War II - the 91-year-old ventures that most Australians do not even know their country was ever bombed.
''[The anniversary's] been badly cared for; this is the first year that there's been any great thought for it,'' he said.
It is always marked in Darwin but its lord mayor, Graeme Sawyer, said that the city had tried to ''pull out all stops'' this year.
A commemorative football match, a 1940s-style gala dinner, and a ''couture and wearable-art showcase'' inspired by the bombing are among a two-week schedule of events.
Tomorrow, likely to be the last major anniversary that many veterans can attend, is also Australia's first official Bombing of Darwin Day. February 19 has been elevated to one of just a handful of national days of observance, such as Remembrance Day.
The Darwin memorial service will be attended by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said she hoped Australians would pause to reflect on the attacks.
''It was the first time we had been attacked on home soil and our great wartime leader John Curtin described it as 'the gravest hour in our history','' she said.
Mr Sawyer said Darwin had sought new ways to celebrate the community's resilience alongside events that commemorated the more than 240 people who died during the surprise raid.
''Darwin was completely destroyed by the war and came back; completely destroyed by Cyclone Tracy and came back. That's something in the psyche of people who live in Darwin and it's something that they are fairly proud of.''
This weekend also marks the opening of the $10 million Defence of Darwin Experience centre, which, it is hoped, could put the city on the military tourism map.
The once-downplayed bombing, which contributed to the creation of the ANZUS alliance, was called ''Australia's Pearl Harbour'' during the visit by the US President, Barack Obama, to a memorial to the USS Peary in Darwin last year. The ship destroyed during the raid also lends its name to one of the pieces in A Minute's Warning, the Darwin designer Matilda Alegria's wearable art showcase.
Although the concept has attracted some criticism, Alegria, 22, said tomorrow's event was sought to connect younger people to a critical day in their history.
''I don't think it's disrespectful in any regard because it's still commemorating the lives lost, it's just a different way of doing it,'' she said.