THIRTEEN former Australian defence personnel including a former Nowra based naval helicopter air crewman have been refused posthumous recognition with the nation’s highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross.
The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal spent two years investigating the recommendations and found Leading Air Crewman Noel Shipp and 12 other personnel, should not be awarded the VC.
The inquiry was headed by the tribunal chair, Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO, assisted by Professor David Horner AM, Professor of Australian Defence History in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University; Vice Admiral Don Chalmers AO (retd), former Chief of Navy; Brigadier Gary Bornholt AM, CSC (retd), former senior army officer; and Air Commodore Mark Lax OAM, CSM (retd), former senior air force officer.
The tribunal cited the extreme difficulty gathering reliable evidence about what happened between 40 and almost 100 years ago, and to understand why commanders did not make recommendations at the time.
In 1969 Leading Air Crewman Shipp was part of the RAN’s Helicopter Flight Vietnam, which was embedded with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company, the Taipans.
On May 31, 1969, aircraft of the 135th were extracting elements of the 7th ARVN Infantry Division from a pick-up zone in Dinh Tuong Province when they came under intense automatic weapons fire.
Three aircraft were damaged and one pilot was injured and needed immediate medical evacuation.
During the mission to pick up the downed and injured pilot, Shipp's Iroquois helicopter came under intense enemy attack.
The aircraft was hit but as it plummeted out of control, Shipp hung from the chopper and courageously continued to engage the enemy until the aircraft hit the ground and all on board were killed.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Anders (US Army) later reported that, with complete disregard for his own safety, Leading Air Crewman Shipp hung half outside his aircraft, exposing himself to rocket back-blast and intense enemy fire in order to bring more effective fire to bear on the target.
Shipp received no awards for this action but in 2011 was listed in the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry into unresolved recognition for past acts of naval and military gallantry and valour.
Shipp has been honoured by the RAN with the naming of a recruit division at HMAS Cerberus in his memory.
Leading Air Crewman Shipp was in good company in being considered for Australia’s highest military honour.
Among the 13 personnel recommended was Gallipoli’s John Simpson Kirkpatrick, Seaman Teddy Sheean, a navy gunner who was just 18 when he died fighting off Japanese aircraft that sank the warship HMAS Armidale, and Captain Hec Waller, who went down with the light cruiser HMAS Perth after a battle with a Japanese fleet in the Java Sea.