As Anzac Day is packed away until next year we would do well to remind ourselves our veterans need to know they remain in our thoughts.
This is a story about a group of Aussie service personnel who may have not been fully recognised for the service they provided.
The Royal Australian Air Force is in the process of replacing the AP-3C Orion aircraft, which began service in 1968, with the latest maritime aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon. Before the Orion, the RAAF’s maritime surveillance aircraft was the Lockheed Neptune. The Neptunes provided airpower to protect HMAS Sydney as she carried our troops and military equipment to Vietnam in 1965. The maritime passage of HMAS Sydney and her escort ships was known as Operation Trimdon.
The surveillance provided was essential as it was considered countries who supported North Vietnam could attack her. The RAAF stationed Neptune aircraft in Townsville, Lae (New Guinea), the island of Guam and Sangley Point, the Philippines. The Neptunes were loaded with live torpedoes and depth charges to be used if hostile intent was evident.
Nambucca Heads resident, Paul Sykes, was one of the RAAF aircrew on Neptunes flying out of Lae during the Trimdon. Mr Sykes says there is no consistency regarding who received full recognition for their service on this operation, contending all personnel should receive the same recognition.
Those based at Sangley Point were awarded the Australian Active Service Medal 1945-1975 with Clasp Vietnam and or the Vietnam Logistics Support Medal. The government now contends those based from Lae are not entitled to these medals despite many of these veterans already being awarded them.
Despite repeated approaches to the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defence, where responses have come from the highest levels, the request for equal recognition has been flatly refused.
Put plainly, the governments’ stance on this issue is those that did not enter the Vietnam Area of Operations are not entitled to the above-mentioned service awards.
A number of official responses to Mr Sykes detail the service of the Lae-based participants in Operation Trimbdon were classified as being on peacetime service and the office of the vice chief of the defence force has provided an explanation for this.
Mr Sykes disputes the findings and points to a range of inconsistencies in the handling of this matter including some of the Lae aircrew have been being fully recognised. The men who flew from Lae were briefed on the potential for hostile action and their aircraft were fitted out to deal with such contingencies. To them the threat was real.
What Paul Sykes would like to see is their service was considered no less important to the operation than those who flew from other locations. His last submission has gone unanswered.
About the author: Mick Birtles is a recently retired Army Officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the well-being of veterans on the Mid North Coast.
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