Vietnam veterans mark special anniversary in Nowra

Veterans met up with their “family of brothers” who they served alongside in Vietnam at a three-day reunion in Nowra from Sunday to Tuesday.

A range of events were held to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam.

Of the 121 men remaining from their four contingents, 92 men travelled from across the country for the reunion.

Many conceded it would be their last big reunion, as they will be in their 90s when the 60-year anniversary rolls around.

“The navy couldn’t have done anything more to support the reunion,”  Veteran Commodore David Farthing said, after nine navy helicopters flew over the Bomaderry procession, silencing the street.

He thanked the men for showing up in force and his greatest supporter, his wife, with a tear in his eyes.

“My personal recovery would not have been as successful if it were not for the support of my lovely wife,” he said.

Throughout Helicopter Flight Vietnam’s deployment there were many acts of bravery and sacrifice.

The names on the navy’s Roll of Honour attest to this and include Lieutenant Anthony Casadio and Leading Aircrewman Noel Ervin Shipp.

Lieutenant Anthony Casadio decorated four times during his ten months active service in Vietnam. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross by the US in November 1967, when he landed his damaged helicopter and saved the aircraft and the lives of other crew members. His action was termed “heroism beyond the call of duty”. Sadly, he survived this incident only to lose his life on 21 August 1968 when his gunship crashed. 

Leading Aircrewman Noel Ervin Shipp completed more than 25 missions into hostile territory in the fight against communist aggression. On 20 November 1968, he was awarded the US Air Medal for Valour, for distinguished meritorious achievement.  On 31 May 1969, he was door gunner in the lead gunship escorting troop-carrying helicopters. These helicopters came under heavy ground fire in the vicinity of the landing zone and Shipp hung out from the helicopter to engage the enemy more closely with his M60 machine gun. During the course of the action his helicopter was hit, crash landed and burst into flames. Shipp was seen to continue firing at the enemy until the moment of impact.

The gallantry and distinguished service of Helicopter Flight Vietnam’s members was recognised by the award of three Members of the British Empire, eight Distinguished Service Crosses, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, one British Empire Medal, twenty-four Mentioned-in-Dispatches and numerous Vietnamese and United States decorations.