Unveiling of the RAAF Vietnam Plaque
Three line squadrons and a number of supporting units were committed to active service in South Vietnam, but for many veterans of that conflict, the RAAF has never really acknowledged the service of those units and personnel to the Nation in general or the RAAF in particular. Indeed, 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. Whether that viewpoint, flawed as it proved to be, stemmed from the fact that a RAAF fighter squadron was not deployed (the Sabre could only have been used in the ground attack role and there were better weapon systems already deployed by the USAF and US Army and the Mirage, being new the RAAF and French to boot making it a difficult option to support) is immaterial. Whatever the reason, it rankled then and still does for a number of RAAF Vietnam Veterans.
Despite squadron plaques being dedicated at the Australian War Memorial, there is really no specific dedicated site to RAAF service (the addition of Vietnam to the RAAF Memorial in Canberra doesn’t cut it!!). In Victoria, the RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association (Vic), with the agreement of the Governors of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, dedicated a plaque in the Garden of Reflection to those units and personnel who served in Vietnam. It has become the focal point when RAAF Vietnam Veterans gather for the ANZAC Day and Vietnam Veterans Day commemorations at the Shrine. But for many veterans, it still didn’t “close the circle”!
Discussions with the RAAF Association (Victorian Division) provided an answer. They would fund and conduct a commemorative ceremony at which a plaque, dedicated to those RAAF personnel who lost their lives during that service and honouring all the personnel and units who served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975, would be dedicated at the Australian Flying Corps Memorial at RAAF Base Pt Cook – the “Spiritual Home of the RAAF”.
So, on 28th March 2010, a crowd of some 250 veterans (many from interstate), family and friends gathered at Pt Cook for the ceremony. They were joined by more than 30 members of the Melbourne Vietnamese Community (many of them also veterans) whose presence was especially significant and warmly welcomed by all who attended.
Australian Air Force Cadets from No 4 Wing displayed the banners of the RAAF Association, RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association, No 2 Sqn, No 9 Sqn, RTFV/35 Sqn and the Forward Air Controllers Association to form a backdrop to the plaque which was “guarded” by three Cadet Officers with swords reversed. The RAAF Air Power Brass Band provided the music accompaniment and a faultless (and haunting) Last Post and Rouse.
After a short opening address by Peter Colliver, President RAAF Association (Victorian Division), AVM Alan Reed AO delivered an excellent keynote address. The plaque was unveiled by Peter Colliver and our Patron, AVM E (Mac) Weller AM, who made the trip from Canberra to do so.
The RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association Padre, Reverend George G Ashworth OAM, delivered the dedication after which wreaths were laid by AIRCDRE Ken Watson (CDR Air Training Group), Lee Scully RAAFVVA President, John McCrystal RAAFA Vice President, Graham Henry State President No 2 Sqn Association, Graeme Chalmers National President No 9 Sqn Association and Dave Grierson on behalf of RTFV/35Sqn. Tony Lupton MP, representing the State Premier and Bob Elworthy, State President of the Vietnam Veterans Association also laid wreaths along with Viet Long NGUYEN, Vietnamese Veterans, Mrs Be Ha JP Vietnamese Association and Tom Roberts, President RAAFA Branch Ballarat.
Once the wreaths had been laid Anthony Pahl OAM recited his special poem “New Memory For Old Blokes”; which left many an eye moist if not wet! For many of the veterans there, having the plaque at Pt Cook (the spiritual home of the RAAF) may be seen as acknowledgment (finally) by the RAAF of that service despite the fact that successive Chiefs of Air Staff/Force never saw the need (despite two of them having served there on Canberra aircraft). For others, it completes the journey since we are all now home, thanks to the return of our two MIAs (Mike Herbert and Bob Carver – Magpie 91) in August 2009.
The ceremony was followed by a luncheon at the Officers Mess after which many of those who attended visited the RAAF Point Museum, where the forward fuselage of a Canberra, a Huey gunship (A2-377) and a Caribou attracted much interest. A flying display by a beautifully detailed “Bird Dog’ had special significance for Mac (The FAC) Cottrell DFC who attended along with his son and daughter and other FACs who journeyed to Pt Cook for the ceremony.