RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

Australian Flying Corps Memorial: RAAF Base Point Cook
28 March 2010


Air Vice Marshall Alan Reed AO
Air Vice Marshall Alan Reed AO

“Vietnam Vietnam”
What do those words do to you?

If you served there and you are anything like me they will conjure in your mind a feast of memories almost like it was yesterday

Although it is more than 40 years ago!

Some memories are good and others not so good. Some people have been scarred by their memories and will carry those scars to the grave.

Whatever, all of us who served there have our own memories of our own experience and thoughts of that war and I could say a few things about mine.

But what I do want to say is how pleased I am to see finally and formally, recognition by the RAAF of RAAF Service in Vietnam.

It’s about time I hear you say – and it is!

Forty years is long enough!

So it brings a sort of closure for all of us after all these years.

Closure after the hard time we experienced on our return. Being classed almost as war criminals when we had been doing our job to the best of our ability was not a nice feeling and one not easily forgotten.

It still rankles me and maybe you too!

But it is closure too in another sense and in some ways the timing of this memorial ceremony is right.

After all, we are all home now.

Bringing Mike Herbert and Bob Carver home was a magnificent achievement and we are all grateful to LTCOL Jim Bourke and his team of “Operation Aussies Home” for the magnificent job they did in bringing home those two fine young men to where they belong and the four soldiers too.

Thank you Colonel Bourke and your team. I also want to thank DSTO. DSTO you may well ask?

I attended the Chief of Air Force briefing for retired senior officers in Canberra last month.

The Chief pointed out that the scientists did contribute and contribute well.

The problem in locating the wreckage had been the many reports unsubstantiated and otherwise at the time and since what happened and where and when.

So the Chief gave the problem to DSTO who went right back to basics using only information that they could guarantee and unsung the Canberra flight profile. They estimated a fairly small area where they believed the aircraft would be.

Spot on – as it turned out. So thank you also to DSTO and the scientists involved in bringing our boys back home.

It is certainly very important to us to have everyone back as we dedicate this memorial to RAF Service in Vietnam.

The RAAF had quite a significant involvement in Vietnam.

First in – in 1964 was the recently retired and erstwhile Caribou with the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam and later 35 Squadron. First in and last out!

And with a well earned reputation of getting in when others could not. “Wallaby Airlines” was well known to all who served there.

9 Squadron was next in and probably best known for their support of the Army conducting many difficult and dangerous missions, including the best known resupply of ammunition in the worst possible weather to the beleaguered Australian Forces during the Battle of Long Tan.

Frank Riley, who was on my pilot’s course, was awarded the DFC and Cliffe Dohle who had been a signaller in my crew on long nose Lincolns at Townsville, before training as a pilot, an MID. They and their crews both demonstrated heroism and undoubtedly saved the day for the Australian troops who were being badly shot up.

How please I was to learn that the MID awarded to Cliff had been upgraded last year to a Distinguished Service Medal. How sad I was that the announcement was just after Cliff had passed away.

The awards to 9 Squadron people were well justified and none more so than the CGM for exceptional bravery to “Snow” Coughlan. The only such award since the Second World War.

9 Squadron lost seven aircraft with six of its members killed and eight wounded in battle.

The other formed unit was of course 2 Squadron flying that beautiful lady of the sky – the Canberra. Last – first out!

Their accuracy with low level bombing was a delights to FACs – they could be relied upon totally to put a bomb exactly where it was asked.

2 Squadron is the only RAAF unit to be awarded 3 presidential Unit Citations – 2 from the US, one in the Second World War and one for Vietnam and another from the President of the republic of South Vietnam.

The RAAF did not send a fighter squadron to Vietnam. The Mirage III was our brand new fighter then and supporting it Vietnam would have been very difficult.

The official record of the RAAF War in Vietnam by Professor Coulthard Clark states that the then CAS felt that without fighters being committed, there was nothing for the RAAF to learn.

I think this observation is pretty harsh and unfair and I do not believe it was justified.

Although no fighter squadron was deployed, 36 Australian fighter pilots served as FACs and served with distinction fully integrated into US units.

Another half dozen flew Phantoms with the USAF and I can assure you pilots from personal experience that there were many valuable lessons learned by those people.

Many other people were involved in Vietnam.

36 and 37 Squadrons flew regular support missions.

5 ACS developed Phan Rang and Vung Tau facilities.

RAAF Nurses assisted many medevacs.

Transport Support Flight Butterworth flew regularly into Vietnam.

HQ Richmond Detachment S provided humanitarian support during the evacuation in 1975.

All were there and all served their country well.

And of course I am not referring to the crews alone.

There were few of them by comparison to those supporting them. They were the point of the arrow certainly. But the point of the arrow is useless without the shaft and the feathers to guide it. It will go nowhere without that support and the direction it needs.

Everyone who served in Vietnam was involved in keeping those crews in the air and doing their job.

Whether Air Defence Guards, Photo Interpreters seconded to the USAF, tradies servicing the aircraft, clerks in the orderly room or the equipment store, no matter what role you served in you were part of the contribution – and this recognition is for you.

We did our best to support Vietnam at that time.

Everyone who served in the RAAF in Vietnam is acknowledged today by this memorial and by this service. It is for you. Feel proud about it. I do!