RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

UNVEILING OF THE RAAF VIETNAM PLAQUE
SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE MELBOURNE
18 August 2008

OPENING ADDRESS
Nick LeRay-Meyer AM
RAAFVVA President

Nick LeRay-Meyer AM
Nick LeRay-Meyer AM
Distinguished Guests, Veterans, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association and all those RAAF personnel who served in VIETNAM, it is my privilege and honour to welcome you all here today. I especially note the presence of:

  • WGCDR Peter S Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM (RETD) Life Governor of the Shrine of Remembrance and Patron of the RAAF Association
  • AIRCDRE Ken Watson AM, Commander Air Force Training Group - representing the Chief of Air Force – Air Marshal Mark Binskin AM
  • Mr Peter Colliver, State President the RAAF Association
  • Mr Bob Elworthy, State President Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia
  • Mr Graham Henry, President of No 2 Squadron Association,
  • Mr Mike Downs, Vice President (Vic) No 9 Squadron Association
  • Mr Anthony Pahl OAM, Vice President (SA) No 9 Squadron Association
  • Mr Dave Grierson, representing the RTFV/35 Squadron Associations
  • The Rev George Ashworth OAM, Chaplain to the RAAFVVA
  • Phong Nguyen. National President of the Vietnamese Community of Australia

and finally but by no means least, our Patron – AVM Mac Weller AM (Retd). Mac, we are delighted that you have been able to join us here in Melbourne on this special occasion.

I would also like to extend our sincere appreciation to the trustees of the Shrine of Remembrance for extending to us the honour and privilege to lay this plaque in the Garden of Reflection and to the staff of the Shrine, in particular Mr Bruce Dunlop, for making today’s ceremony a reality. I also wish to thank the Minister for and the Department of Veterans Affairs, for providing funding for the plaque as part of its on-going “salute to the veterans” program.

Briefly, the RAAF deployed three operational flying units to the South Vietnam theatre. Starting in 1964, the first was the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam, later to become 35 Sqn, with Caribou transport aircraft; then in 1966 came No 9 Sqn operating Iroquois helicopters and No 2 Sqn operating Canberra bombers. Four in-theatre units were also formed to provide services such as equipment, stores, finance, air movements services and airfield defence guards to support the flying units. A number of pilots and specialist personnel were seconded to elements of the US Air Force and US Army and a detachment of No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron constructed facilities at the two main home bases, Phan Rang and Vung Tau. C130 aircraft of No 36 and 37 Squadrons conducted regular logistical support and medical evacuation operations between Australia and South Vietnam and later participated in the 1975 evacuation of Saigon.

Despite being on active service longer than most units of previous conflicts, the in-theatre units specially formed for Vietnam service were never accorded the honour of a sovereign-approved or official unit crest. Mindful of that situation, the plaque being unveiled today displays only the RAAF crest; use of which was approved by the Chief of Air Force. While the lack of official or unofficial unit badges may disappoint some, it was after all, a RAAF commitment, even if at times, it seemed to many of us that the RAAF hierarchy of that era attributed little significance to our formidable achievements.

Today, some 36 years after “Wallaby Airlines” completed their last operational sortie and some 33 years since RAAF aircraft assisted in the evacuation of Saigon, we in Victoria now have a plaque that commemorates the service of all those RAAF personnel who served our nation in South Vietnam, and especially those 14 who lost their lives during that active service period. It is our fervent hope that this plaque within the grounds of this magnificent Shrine of Remembrance, will be a place where we veterans and our families can from time to time assemble as a group or visit individually, to pause and commemorate the lives of those who paid the supreme sacrifice, those who served, those who have since passed on and recall the friendships forged in Vietnam during times of stress and peril. May others who pause here after we are gone, remember our service to the nation!

I now invite AIRCDRE Watson, representing the Chief of Air Force and Snow Coughlan, awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his bravery under fire in Vietnam to unveil the plaque.