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Kenneth Howard
Archive number: 1980
Preferred name: Ken
Date interviewed: 28 June, 2004
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Served with:

2 Squadron Butterworth
35 Squadron Vietnam

Other images:

  • John Griffith, George Godfrey and Ken

    John Griffith, George Godfrey and Ken

  • 38 Squadron - 1964

    38 Squadron - 1964

  • Transporting South Vietnamese troops

    Transporting South Vietnamese troops

Kenneth Howard 1980

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:30:00

The first thing I am going to ask you to do is what we discussed before, just a very brief summary of the main points in your life?
There has been so many of them where do you want me to start, high school?

01:01:00:00

Start where you were born and then just go through from there.
Well I was born in Bathurst west of the mountains at the base of Mount Panorama [motor racing circuit] which gives me a burning desire for racing cars and I had a burning desire from an early age to fly. I had aeroplanes on my mind the whole time. And I think it was during fourth year

01:01:30:00

that my high school maths master picked up on the fact that I had this interest in flying and he was the one who suggested that I should make it a career. And but making flying a career back in those days was join the flying club I was too young for that and to get into the air force I had idea of

01:02:00:00

that and the more I thought about it the more it seemed to be the way to go. But they wouldn’t take me into the air force at the age that I was. I had to wait until I was eighteen. So I took on my first job was as a cub reporter with the National Advocate and I started work there. Now that didn’t pay very much.

01:02:30:00

And to supplement my idea on flying I took on several other job, working in a chemist shop on Saturday morning washing bottles. Because back in those days you had small bottles in which you got your pills and you took them back and the chemist relabelled them up and filled them up again. So that was my job washing bottles. On Saturday afternoon I was the lolly boy

01:03:00:00

at the local pictures and earnt more money and on Tuesday and Thursday nights I worked on a fruit cart running around town delivering fruit and I made just enough money to buy half an hours flying time at the local aero club. But I was too young to hold a student licence or a licence. So I would spend all day Sunday riding out to the local airport which was some six miles away. And

01:03:30:00

then buy twenty minutes or an half an hours flying. And I did along with the work I had with the National Advocate, I did that right up until I turned eighteen. Turning eighteen I immediately applied to get into the air force, I wanted to fly so badly, I wanted to get in as a pilot. I was accepted,

01:04:00:00

I did the medical that was fine, I did the interview that was fine except the guy doing the interview was a senior air force officer, ex-Second World War. You have got to remember this was 1955 now. And it was only ten years after the Second World War and I remember him saying to me, “Well what do you want to do son?” And I said, “I want to fly.” And he said, “No you don’t.” and I said, “Yes I do.”

01:04:30:00

He said, “We don’t need pilots. We’re full up to the brim of pilots. All of the pilots that went off to war we have got those back, there are pilots everywhere they can’t find jobs. What we need is technicians. Either 2A or 2E.” I didn’t even know what that meant back then. He said, “We desperately need good engineers, good people to fix these aeroplanes.” And so he convinced me that that was the way to

01:05:00:00

go and of course the other chap that I was talking to at the recruiting centre, “Oh yeah that’s the way to go you can change over to become a pilot any time you want to but you can’t change to be an engineer anytime you want to.” And so of course I ended up in the air force as what I thought was going to be an engine fitter. 2E until I got to Wagga.

01:05:30:00

And when I got to Wagga the instructor walked into the class and said, “Ah the new recruits aye, okay this half of the class these two rows will do the airframe course, these two rows will do the engine course.” And of course I happened to be in the airframe side and I wanted to be in the engine side. That’s life and that’s how it began.
You did your training in Wagga, if you could just briefly explain where you went after that in the air force?
After leaving Wagga as an air frame mechanic I ended up back at

01:06:30:00

Richmond and spent several years with 22 Squadron which is a squadron on the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] base Richmond. And then back to Wagga to upgrade and do the fitters course and from there I got posted back to 2AD [Aircraft Depot] at Richmond. And from 2AD I was then posted to Butterworth in Malaysia.

01:07:00:00

Spent two and a half years in Butterworth. [Malaysia] Back to Richmond and when I got back to Richmond they were calling for crew chiefs on Caribous [transports] and I applied for that course. And I had been applying for aircrew course after aircrew course and you just couldn’t get in. Finally made it onto the crew chiefs course and then posted to 38 Squadron

01:07:30:00

and did the training at 38 and then off to Canada to pick the aircraft up. Bring them back, and then off to Vietnam. That’s briefly how it, that took quite a few years for that to happen for me. 1958 through to 1964.
We will just go back Ken

01:08:00:00

and ask about your childhood. Could you tell us about your parents' background?
My Father was a farmer. And then when the farming you know it goes up and down and Dad thought he would be better off getting a permanent job and so he took a job in the munitions factory in Bathurst and when they closed that

01:08:30:00

down he was then employed by Edgells and finally towards the end he was an executive of Gordon Edgells. My Mother was a typical home domestic back in those days, looked after the kids kept the house and lived life as a Mother.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
Yes I had two sisters

01:09:00:00

and a brother. So there was four of us.
Life in Bathurst in those days, what stories did you get told about the Second World War or what knowledge did you have?
Well it is not like today there was no TV [television] . The only time you would get to see anything was Saturday afternoon at the movies you would get the movie

01:09:30:00

time news. That’s about all you would ever get to see. And it wasn’t like today where you see the tragedies of war. You only got to see the bombing raids or the flying. There was no killing, they didn’t shoot those sorts of things in those days. Even though it was going on you didn’t get to see it on the

01:10:00:00

news. You only got to see the good bits on the news. The actually on the ground stuff you didn’t see much. And that’s about it what you read in the paper and what you saw on the movie time news.
Did you have family or friends involved in the Second World War?
I had family involved in the Second World War, uncles, my Father

01:10:30:00

volunteered for the air force but be cause he was a primary producer back in those days he wasn’t accepted. He was more important on the land than in the service.
What about other family members?
Uncles mainly they all served. My grandfather as I said to you before, my grandfather went away for the First World War and he won the military medal and came home,

01:11:00:00

was traumatised to the point where he just disappeared from society, he just packed up and left, that was a tragedy. I have been searching for him ever since.
What kind of impact did that have on your Father?
It was rather devastating. I watched him

01:11:30:00

and you have got to remember that this was many years ago, there was no computers where you could log on and find people, and that’s the only way I found the history of my grandfather. That wasn’t available in my father’s time so he became very silent about the whole thing but never ever stopped me from joining the service.

01:12:00:00

So what had your grandfather done in the First World War?
Well that I am not sure of. I am still trying to get more detail on him. He went away in 1914 came home in 1918 and won the military medal, what he won the military medal for I don’t know. It is there on the web site. And I really want to find out where he is buried so that

01:12:30:00

I can visit the grave and then find the citation as to why he got the military medal.
As a child did you know this story about your grandfather?
No I only found this out in the last few years.
What influences did you have as a child in terms of being interested in military service?

01:13:00:00

None other than the fact that I was learning to fly at the aero club and most of the instructors were all Second World War pilots. The people I associated with in the aero club, the members were ex-servicemen. But I had a burning desire from school age that I wanted to get into the service and fly.

01:13:30:00

That’s where it all began and it was only enhanced by the people in the aero club.
Why do you think that was that you wanted to fly so much?
I don’t know, I wasn’t influenced by anyone in the family flying. They thought it was dangerous and I shouldn’t be doing that I should be becoming a reporter on the

01:14:00:00

paper and settle down to a good career in journalism. But I wanted adventure.
So as a kid what kind of information did you have on the different kinds of planes and flying?
Anything that I could get my hands on I read. Comic books, books, all of the Biggles books [famous children’s books about a pilot] that type of thing. And they were having an influence

01:14:30:00

as well. I saw it as a very glamorous side of the defence force. I didn’t want to be a foot soldier I didn’t want to be a sailor I just wanted to fly.
What are your memories of your first flight?
Well it was exhilarating. I was sitting in the front seat of a Tiger Moth,

01:15:00:00

could hardly see over the top and the instructor flew around and he was getting bored and he said, “Would you like to do some aeros?” aerobatics. And so I just hung on for grim death and away we went and did these aeros. It gave me such a buzz I really wanted to do that and I just worked towards it.

01:15:30:00

Finally got my opportunity to get into air crew in 1963. Up until this time I had been frustrated so much in applying for air crew jobs in the air force and getting knocked back because they didn’t want people or I was too young .The next time I applied I was in Malaya and

01:16:00:00

they said, “We don’t take applicants from overseas reapply when you come home.” I reapplied when I came home and by that time I was twenty-three years old and that was the upper age limit for air crew and I couldn’t get into a course and then they called for crew chiefs on Caribous and I didn’t even know what that was.

01:16:30:00

So I checked with people and they said, “That’s a flying job as a crew member on Caribous.” Well I couldn’t get to the orderly room fast enough to fill out my application and I was so elated when I was selected. I think its, when I got presented with my wings finally was probably one of the proudest times of my life.

01:17:00:00

But going back on this when I was in Malaysia I had still this burning desire to fly. So of a weekend I used to travel a hundred miles down to a place called Ipo and they had a little flying club there with a Tiger Moth and I went solo in three hours and twenty minutes. Got my licence in thirty-nine hours.

01:17:30:00

And that was it I was away I was flying, but I wasn’t flying as service personnel, I was flying as a civilian. And I desperately wanted to be flying in the air force. When I got home and that opportunity jumped up I thought this is it and I went for it. So I stayed in the air force flying right up until I got out in 1982.

01:18:00:00

By that time I had been promoted several times finally through the ranks from sergeant to flight sergeant to warrant officer and finally to a flight engineer. And then I got out after twenty-seven years.
When you were growing up in Bathurst can you explain what the region was like where you were living, your house?

01:18:30:00

Well we lived in the typical country three bedroom home on probably half an acre of land. Plenty of space to play in your own backyard. The traffic wasn’t what it is like today. It was nothing to get on your bike and ride for miles to see your friends. Going rabbiting or shooting,

01:19:00:00

doing all of the things that kids can’t do today. Life was good. Crime was unheard of, I had never heard of drugs. Alcohol of course, well it was taboo to drink under the age of twenty-one, so I didn’t drink. Everyone smoked, that was the downside back in those days.

01:19:30:00

Life in the bush was great, it really was. I wish I could go back to that now actually.
What memories do you have of going to school at a young age?
Used to walk a mile to school carrying all of your books, freezing cold. If you know what the weather is like in Bathurst in the middle of winter it can be

01:20:00:00

anything from rain to sleet to snow to wind. Every day of the week. And it was great. I have fond memories of my childhood. I had a good home, really top parents and I wasn’t deprived. Even though we had no money. I came from a poor family. When I say a poor family we

01:20:30:00

always had food on the table to eat and we always had clothes to wear, but it wasn’t like kids of today with the TVs and the games the various games that they have got, electronic games and everything electronic. You had to make your own fun and had

01:21:00:00

to make your own playtime. Entertain.
When you were growing up in Bathurst, what memories do you have of your Dad talking about the work that he did at the munitions factory?
Not a great deal because Dad never spoke much of what he was doing there other

01:21:30:00

than reloading ammunition and manufacturing it. He was a machine operator and operated a machine, just what he did exactly I can’t tell you. He didn’t talk much about that.
Was that after the war or during?
Well that was towards the end of the war. Probably as my memory goes back

01:22:00:00

probably late forties to early fifties somewhere. 1948 to 1954 somewhere in there.
Was there much evidence of activity geared towards the war in Bathurst?
Not a great deal I didn’t notice it. we had a military camp there. Just up the road towards Cowra we had a prisoner of war camp.

01:22:30:00

There was a big kafuffle one night when I think it was some Japanese that were in the prison escaped but they were quickly rounded up and put back into the compound. But apart from that nothing.
Were you aware of that activity as a kid or does it just pass you by?
I was aware of it because I heard my parents talking about it and Mum running

01:23:00:00

around locking the house up like Fort Knox [analogy to an American fort] . You know because they had this belief that they would creep in in the middle of the night and cut your throat but that wasn’t the case.
Did your parents tell you much about what was going on?
Not really, you just picked these things up. Just listened to what they had to say and digested it yourself, didn’t

01:23:30:00

ask too many questions.
Tell me more about the aero club and where that was located?
That was located at the airfield, Bathurst airfield and it was a small aero club. The aeroplanes were flown in from Mudgee every Saturday morning and of a Sunday afternoon they would depart and fly back to Mudgee because

01:24:00:00

Bathurst didn’t have its own maintenance facility. Mudgee did. So that’s where the aeroplanes were housed and they came down for the weekend. And it was like a disaster if the weather turned bad and the aircraft couldn’t get through it was really bad. So we used to socialise at the airfield. I was just one of those kids that was tolerated,

01:24:30:00

I was trying to mix with adults back in those days.
What kind of people were members of the aero club?
Most of them were ex-Second World War pilots. And it was fascinating to just sit and listen to them telling stories to each other. I imagine it would be like taking my youngest son along to a discussion

01:25:00:00

with me and half a dozen of my Vietnam Veteran guys all sitting around and talking and telling stories and lies about our time in Vietnam. He would be fascinated with that the same as I had a fascination with what they were telling me about the Second World War. The places they had been and the places they had seen.
What appealed to you about the kinds of stories they were telling?

01:25:30:00

Coming through all of the time was that sense of adventure. I envied that I really wanted that adventure. There was an adventurous soul in there trying to get out and that’s what stirred me on and on.
What kind of stories would they tell?
Oh many and varied. Mostly funny stories.

01:26:00:00

Things that, they were almost laughing at themselves for some of the things they had done. Laughing at other people the things that they had done. Not unlike some of the stories we tell today when we’re talking. We don’t talk about the bad side of war, we all sit down and talk about the funny things that happen to us. The trouble you got yourself in accidentally and how you got out of it,

01:26:30:00

they seemed to be the mainstream stories. And that’s the way it goes.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. Psychologically we want to try and forget the bad stuff and just look at the good side? I don’t know.

01:27:00:00

I think there could be an element of truth in that. when I got out of the service in 1982 I more or less divorced myself from my friends, I wouldn’t attend funerals. I wouldn’t go to marches in Sydney. I stayed away for a long time. I didn’t want to get involved

01:27:30:00

with that side of it. That on the wall up there. I sat down and read that one day just thinking about things and it has been accepted by the RSL [returned and services league] .

01:28:00:00

Do you want to tell that story?
The air force wanted to give us all another medal for our activities in New Guinea because after I got back from Vietnam that’s the first place I was posted, to New Guinea to fly up there. And they introduced a medal but you had to prove that you had flown so many sorties [operational flights] in New Guinea and the whole thing

01:28:30:00

of the medals was slowing down because they had to check everybody’s documentation. So I contacted the Department of Defence and said, “Look would it make life easier if I went through my log book took out extracts photostatted them and sent them to you and then you have the dates times and places and then you can sit down and check them off against your records and that will speed things up?” They said, “That’s an excellent idea why don’t

01:29:00:00

you do that.” So I got all of my log books and sat there at the table and I am going through reading my log books taking notes as I went through and the notes I was putting down read like a story and I started reliving the whole sequence of events through my log book, and as I was driving to work I kept on thinking about that and I had a

01:29:30:00

lot of time to think because I drove every day for ten years from here to Bankstown and back again in traffic. So as I am driving I am thinking about these things and it is coming to me almost in poem form. And I actually wrote this poem on the way to work. And then I had a niece who was a graphic artist and she called around one day and I said, “What do you think I should do with this?” and she looked at it and

01:30:00:00

gave me the idea of how the medals should set out and the wings my wings at the bottom etcetera and then write it down here. So I wrote this poem called, I have got to get my glasses out to read it these days. I wrote it and called it Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
We are tired and we are sore, from yesterday and the day before
The air is still, it is heavy and it is damp, as we sit here on this aircraft ramp

01:30:30:00

The aircraft is loaded it is ready it is only seven thirty am, we are on a supply drop mission South Vietnam
Airborne now we have a long way to go, our task is a small DZ [drop zone] just north of Ayro [?]
And with time to reflect I wonder what's in store, here today in this crazy mixed up war?
I carried the dead, wounded and those going to die, all young men just too damn proud to cry
And as I listened to the Pratt & Whitney [engine] drone, it seems Charlie [Viet Cong] just won’t leave us alone

01:31:00:00

He is out and bout and just said G’day, with the crack of a bullet as it passes on its way
The Captain calls, “The DZ’s in sight, just one pass boys so let’s keep it tight.”
The red lights on we’re standing by, in just a few seconds this precious load’s going to fly
The green light’s on, load roll load gone
I hear the snap and the lines break their tyres, full canopies fill the skies
And as I watch them drift away I hope we have helped in some small way

01:31:30:00

I watch them as they hit their mark, we did it, the doors are closed
“Lets go home sir to hide away from all the pain and sorrow, to rest get up and do it all again tomorrow.”
That’s it. You’re obviously digesting all of that.

01:32:00:00

When did you write that?
As I said I wrote that on the way to work. In my head.
And when you left the air force you said earlier you divorced yourself from your mates, why was that at first?
I really don’t know to this day I just wanted to finally get away and do something else

01:32:30:00

and not relive the past. I was really tired of living the past. Thinking about all of the things, every time it was a friend saying, “Oh did you hear about so and so? He has just committed suicide.” Or, “Did you hear about so and so he is in hospital dying of cancer.” Somebody else died. It is all it ever seemed to be. People dying all around me.

01:33:00:00

and I thought well if I don’t see them I will remember them as they were, I think that’s the reason. And then as the years went on more and more of the guys rang me up and said, “Look you have got to be in our group and come and visit us.” And then they started the

01:33:30:00

Vietnam Veterans RAAF Association. And I reluctantly joined that to begin with and then they kept on badgering me to go and I went to one or two of the get togethers. I really enjoyed it getting back to old times and then I started in again so I have been going back ever since.

01:34:00:00

Running into friend that I haven’t seen in years and years. and we have a reunion in August later this year and there is over a hundred and fifty people have said they are going to it and I haven’t seen some of those people in forty years so I am looking forward to that.
That was accepted one of my friends got a hold of that and took it to the RSL and the RSL said they want to put it on display and I am getting asked for it all of the time.
What was your family’s response to you wanting to join the air force?
My Mother had reservations,

01:35:00:00

my Father said, “Yes great.” Because he had wanted to get into the air force so he didn’t have any misgivings there. But my Mother was a little bit worried about it. So Mum was always worried but mothers are always like that especially with the eldest son, it is always a good thing to get out.
And the work you did as

01:35:30:00

a reporter, what did you do in those days what memories do you have of that?
Copyboy. But the it was all night work and my time finished around midnight and then the compositors

01:36:00:00

it is not like today where you did it all on the computer, it was hand typed onto slugs and those slugs were then put into frames and locked together in paragraphs and columns. Little lead slugs, a compositor put all of those together. I had more of an interest in those sorts of things so I used to work back

01:36:30:00

out the back with a school friend of mine and he was a compositor and he was teaching me to become a compositor as well until as I said I was getting accepted into the air force so I had to leave it all. But being a copyboy, running it into the editor he would mark it and then you would go and fix up all of the mistakes. And then he would

01:37:00:00

give you a copy to correct and correct all of that and take it back to him, that’s a copyboy.
How long did you do that for?
That would have been about eight months I guess I did that.
What age were you when you left school?
I was sixteen.

01:37:30:00

Fifteen, yeah sixteen when I left, fourth year of high school and I didn’t go back and do my leaving certificate. That was because of my maths master as well he said, “You don’t need to come back and do fifth year to get into flying in the air force, you only need the intermediate certificate and now you’re doing fourth year, that’s more than enough to get into the air force”. So that’s why I left school.

01:38:00:00

How difficult was it to get work when you left school?
1955? That wasn’t difficult at all there was jobs everywhere. As I said I was working about three or four different jobs over and above what I was doing at the newspaper just top earn money to go flying. It wasn’t very much money.

01:38:30:00

An hour’s flight was about three pound ten [shillings] and I think the whole week I would get about three pound ten, so a week’s wages to go flying.
Where were the offices of the newspaper?
That was in Howick Street in Bathurst just off William.

01:39:00:00

And what are your memories of the other reporters?
They were just ordinary knockabout guys . And I remember walking into the place and thinking, “This is dirty”. There was black ink everywhere, the floors were dirty, the place was dirty, paper everywhere, there was just so much rubbish everywhere. And out the back where all of the

01:39:30:00

linotype operators were and the machinery was, that was dreadful. It really was dreadful. You would come out of there looking black as the ace of spades, ink everywhere. Nothing you could touch that would be clean, everything had a smear of something on it just from the type of work that was created there.
And what type of stories would you be covering?

01:40:00:00

Anything and everything but mainly the women’s meetings, the P & C [Parent and Community Association] meetings. Little snippets in the paper. I remember the editor came in one day and he said to me, “What are you doing?” and I said, “I am not doing anything.” And he

01:40:30:00

said, “I can see that. Right, pick up the telephone directory there and just use a pin, pinprick a few names ring them up and say who you are and what you’re doing, have you heard anything around town? You’re from the National Advocate.” Some of the stories I would pick up it was incredible. Some the editor said, “Well we can use that but we can’t use that, we can’t use that. “

01:41:00:00

And that’s what life was like in the country back in those days. And it was a big thrill for them to have the newspaper ring them up and say, “Have you heard anything that I can put in the paper?” and they would just talk and talk and tell you all about Mrs Smith next door. And what her cat did. It was just a gossip column type of thing. That was my job.
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 02

02:00:01:00

Air training corps what that involved?
Well the Air Training Corps 28 Flight started in Bathurst at the end of 1954 and I immediately joined that. I saw that as a way of being in the air force

02:00:30:00

and I was only in that for about nine months and I had to leave that because you’re not allowed to be in it over the age of eighteen back in those days, so that was until I was eighteen. I was actually working at the National Advocate and that was only for an hour on a Thursday night in ATC [Air Training Corps] , so I had to sneak away from work to go to the

02:01:00:00

ATC and get back within that hour.
And what sort of activities were involved as part of that?
Well that was part of the very early days of the ATC it was just starting up. So you would get reserve officers or officers that had joined the ATC, Second World War officers and they would just talk for an hour on their time in the

02:01:30:00

service or various parts of the service, tell stories. And at the same time try and give you an insight into life in the service and also the various avenues you had in the air force. Like I could only see one avenue which was the flying side but there was more

02:02:00:00

than just the flying side. I can still remember his name Brennan, he came from a little place called Rockley but he was the first officer that they had in the ATC back in those days. Hugh Brennan and he used to talk to us about life in the service.
What did they impress upon you about what life in the service, particularly the air force was like?

02:02:30:00

Well the impression I got was that it was very disciplined. You had to watch your Ps and Qs [manners] all of the time and behave yourself and it was pretty much like that when we first joined up. There was no slackening off at all. By today’s standard it was very dictatorial, “You will polish those shoes.” “You will do this.” “You will march on a parade and you will be there.” There was no ifs

02:03:00:00

buts or maybes it was “You will”. And people did it because the penalties were harsh. You would find yourself in the mess hut washing pots and pans or dixie bashing [cleaning cooking pots] . There was no court, it was a case of, “I think you’re guilty, in you go, you’re going to work in the mess all weekend.”
What would you have to do to get that

02:03:30:00

kind of penalty?
Oh you could do the silliest things, be two minutes late to a parade, or give your shoes a quick rub over with a piece of cloth and they weren’t polished enough for the inspecting officer when he looked at your shoes he said, “They aren’t shiny enough.” Anything at all. Inspect your weapon and if there was the slightest bit of fluff on it

02:04:00:00

you could cop a penalty. I think half of the time it was planned that way because they needed extra people in the mess to do the clean up. Especially after some dining in nights of some of the officers.
So in initial training how quickly do you think they could weed out people who couldn’t handle the discipline?
That was part of it.

02:04:30:00

I could see that there were people in there that weren’t going to last and they didn’t because of that. They weren’t strong enough to take on the discipline side. They wanted to buck the system and that’s not service life.
How is discipline important to service life?
Extremely. You do not want somebody to stand there and question everything you say or do.

02:05:00:00

It needs to be, they need to be given specific instructions and those instructions to be carried out without any questions, there are times when you have to ask a question, but it is not the question it is how you ask the question. There is a right and wrong way of doing it.
Is it hard to leave behind and go back into civilian life without that disciplinary structure?

02:05:30:00

You tend to take the discipline to your next job. But not to the point that you have got discipline over others, it is your self discipline that you keep to yourself. Then eventually when you do get into a position where you want your discipline you temper that with a little bit of reasoning

02:06:00:00

and the management courses that you do will show you how to bring the best out in people.
Did you have a perception before you joined the air force that it was glamorous?
Yes very much so. From the movies you saw and from the articles that were written, the heroic events of the time. How it

02:06:30:00

was portrayed, it was adventurous and glamorous.
And you mentioned that there was World War II veterans in the ATC, what sense did you get during that of the danger and the horror of the experience of war?
None because they never spoke of those things. They always spoke of the fun times they had, the adventures

02:07:00:00

they had. And as I said it is like today, we don’t talk about the bad side of war, we only talk about the funny things that happened, the camaraderie. Today we are like on big family. There is not one of those guys I couldn’t ring up and say, “Look I need some help.” They would be here within the hour. That’s how strong a family

02:07:30:00

the whole unit had grown to be since Vietnam.
You mentioned the members didn’t talk a lot about the sadness of the war do you think that is something that continues in current services?
Still today. Still exactly the same today.

02:08:00:00

What kind of effect do you think that has on people who might be having problems adjusting?
Well I am not a psychologist and I am only looking from the outside. I think it does affect some people they bottle it up inside and then when they do let it go they let go in a big way right? We are very proud. We don’t call for help.

02:08:30:00

As I said in that poem I wrote we were all young men just too dammed proud to cry, and that’s the way it is.
I just want to go back and talk about your joining the air force, can you just talk about leaving Bathurst and try and explain in detail what that process was and

02:09:00:00

your first day of joining up where you went to?
Yes, once again that was like another big adventure right. Here I am a young boy, how did I get from Bathurst to Sydney, I caught the train. My parents took me down to the railways station and said, “Goodbye.” I jumped on the train and I had never been to Sydney before. Off I went. When I got here I had to find

02:09:30:00

my way to Rushcutters Bay; I got through to Rushcutters Bay okay. Caught a cab and got there and from there I was in the hands of the air force. I just had to sit and wait while they formed everybody up put them on a bus, drove them from one place to the other. Drove us to the railways station. Out us on a train, paid for our ticket, showed us how to get to Richmond

02:10:00:00

and said, “Right just get off at Clareton and walk across the airfield.” And that’s exactly what we did. But everything we did was one big adventure.
Were there other boys in town in Bathurst who were wanting to join the air force?
Yeah. I remember one guy saying to me that this is several years after

02:10:30:00

I had joined the air force and I had a red MGTC [sports car] . And that was the sort of car that they drove in England in that period and I had one, and I drove to Bathurst one race weekend and I pulled up, I was in uniform and I met this guy and I had been to school with him. And he just looked at me and said, “You look like you have just stepped out of the movies.”

02:11:00:00

I said, “Well no it is not quite like that.” and he was so impressed he went straight down and joined the air force.
It must have been a pretty dashing look?
I guess it was in those days.
What was your families reaction when you showed up in your uniform and your MG?
I will never forget my

02:11:30:00

Mother. Before I had the MG I had a motorbike and I had an accident off the motorbike and they were very concerned about it because I beat myself up pretty badly. Broken nose, concussion, broken jaw, ended up in hospital. I hit a car coming down the Main Street of Bathurst, on my bike one night,

02:12:00:00

right outside the police station, right outside the ambulance station and diagonally across from the hotel, I hadn’t been drinking or anything. This car just appeared in front of me and I slammed straight into the side of it, the bike stopped suddenly and crumpled up and it pelted me down the road way and as I went I hit my face on the pillar of the car.

02:12:30:00

And I ended up in hospital but they couldn’t xray me because they couldn’t find the x-ray technician. And the next day they finally x-rayed me and said I had a broken nose, broken jaw and some other injuries. Because the guy I had run into had been the x-ray technician for the hospital and he had been arrested for being drunk.

02:13:00:00

So finally when my parents came they said, “This is it you have got to get off the motorbike.” And the bike was fully insured and it was rebuilt, but if I was to trade that in and learn to drive a car my Father would help for the finance for the car. So I traded the bike in and I bought

02:13:30:00

a MG and I arrived home with it and they came out and my parents looked at it and my Mother went right off because I had stepped off a two wheel motorbike onto a four wheel motorbike she reckoned. And but anyway they got over that.
What sort of a risk taken do you think you were as a young man?
I had an adventurous side to me.

02:14:00:00

Did that play a part in your operations in Malaya and Vietnam do you think?
Yes I think so. I just loved the adventure of it all. Every day was like an adventure.
What effect did the

02:14:30:00

MG and the uniform have on impressing girls?
Well I couldn’t say, I guess it did because there was plenty of girls around back in those days. My wife is not around there is she? No there was plenty of girls around in those days, that’s like another era really. Different

02:15:00:00

things for different eras. Back in those days it was uniform and a red TC [car] .
Did Sydney girls seem different to Bathurst girls?
Oh yes city girls are always different to country girls.
In what way?
Country girls were a little more genuine and possibly a little more naïve then their city cousins.

02:15:30:00

Had anyone given you advice when you were in Bathurst about what Sydney was like or what to expect or what to do?
No because I never asked the question. It didn’t dawn on me. It was just another town as far as I was concerned. And I learned to live with that and find my way around,

02:16:00:00

same as any other town. I wasn’t overawed by Sydney.
So what were your first impressions of Sydney?
Big, and trains running up the middle of the street, which were trams. That’s about all I can remember.

02:16:30:00

Lots of people, more so than the country town of Bathurst. Lots of people, trams and the overall size of the place.
So what did they have you do once you had enlisted and arrived at Richmond?
Well for a start I didn’t have to think, I was told what to do always.

02:17:00:00

I was told when to go to bed, when to get up, when to eat, when to stop eating, when to form up outside, when to go to work. Damn near even told when to go to the toilet. Your whole life was programmed and that was another form of discipline, you had to be on time all of the time.

02:17:30:00

So in those first week what was your routine, when would you get up, when would you go to sleep, what would you do?
Up very early, breakfast was at seven on the parade ground by seven thirty every morning. You would march and do drill all day long.

02:18:00:00

For three or four months you did this. And at the end of the day you were pretty much worn out from all of the activity that you had. Off to your room, shower change, into full uniform, off to the mess have dinner. After dinner you would be back, there was

02:18:30:00

no TV to sit and look at, back to study and lights out. They had the time that the lights had to be switched off and you were left there in darkness. So if you weren’t ready on time, you were there getting ready in the dark. And that was once again another form of discipline.
What were the barracks like, the accommodation?
Not bad. They were Nissen huts [tunnel shaped huts of corrugated iron with cement floor] to begin with,

02:19:00:00

just a long corridor with beds and a locker in it, that’s it. And your trunk at the end of the bed with all of your uniforms in it. That’s all you had.
Did you have any personal items with you? Did you take anything like that?
No, no personal items. No photographs, no radios no TVs, nothing.,

02:19:30:00

it was I guess like being in gaol. To some degree. And then when we got out of the recruit camp and into a squadron. Things got a little easier, you had your own private room with your own personal gear. A wardrobe and a bed. And that was the other thing, you

02:20:00:00

had to s strip your bed every morning, strip it, fold every sheet and fold every blanket, and place it with a pillow on top of it at the end of the bed. That would be inspected and if that wasn’t done right you copped some form of disciplinary action for that.
How accustomed to those domestic duties were you?

02:20:30:00

I just accepted it. I just accepted that, “I am in the air force now and this is what they do in the air force and I just did it”. It wasn’t a case of “My Mother made me do this every morning and here I do it in the air force”. It wasn’t a case of that. It was, “I am in the air force, this is what the air force wants I will do it

02:21:00:00

without question”. It was pretty much like that for everybody. There were a few and a very small few who tried to buck the system and tried to become the bush lawyer and say, “You can’t make me do this.” They didn’t last very long.

02:21:30:00

We talked briefly about the transition from wanting to be a pilot, can you explain in detail exactly when and how you were channelled into a career as an engineer?
Well initially as I said I wanted to fly I wanted to be in air crew. And the opportunities for getting into air crew were few and far between.

02:22:00:00

The air force were full ex-navigators, signallers and pilots, and just getting into those positions. The air force wasn’t running those courses so what were you going to do? You couldn’t just be a general hand and .just mow lawns and work in the mess all of the time. You had to do something with your life. And I took the advice of the recruiting officer who said, “Look we need engineers.”

02:22:30:00

And I elected to take on the engineering side and I did that and finally became an air frame fitter in the air force, but deep down inside I still had this burning desire to fly. When I went to Malaysia I got my pilots licence there. That wasn’t air force, that was civilian licence. I still got this burning desire to

02:23:00:00

want to fly in the air force. And it was when I came back from Malaysia to Australia, I had applied for a pilots course while I was in Malaysia and they wrote back to me and said, “We won’t accept people form overseas on air crew courses.” I was to reapply once I got home. And I knew I was going to be too old once I got home. And I wrote another

02:23:30:00

letter to the air force pointing this out and in fact they never even bothered to answer to that. So when I got posted back I was working, I got posted back into 486 Squadron when I came back from Malaysia. And I don’t know what made me do it, I picked up the daily orders and I read there that applications were being called for the

02:24:00:00

position of crew chief back in those days, to fly on the Caribou aircraft which the Number 38 Squadron was going to be equipped with. Well you know I immediately stopped doing what I was doing and I wrote out application putting all of my qualification down, that I had flying training as a private

02:24:30:00

pilot, I was an airframe fitter. What they were looking for was people who had a good technical knowledge and I had studied up on engines and the electrical side of things and so when I went for the interview and I was lucky, I got an interview. I got selected for an interview. There were about eight of us that

02:25:00:00

got onto that selection . We went along and I had rehearsed this for so long that I walked in there really confident that I knew what I was talking about. No matter what they asked me that I was able to give them the answer, so much so that it convinced the committee that I should be on that air crew course. And I went on to the

02:25:30:00

course. I thought there was no way I was going to fail this. “I have got to get through it and I got through it onto the aircraft”. And when they pinned my wings onto me I think that was one of the proudest moments of my air force career. Not knowing that I was soon going to be posted to Vietnam.

02:26:00:00

There was no mention of war in Vietnam back then, but that’s what they were gearing up for.
How had you acquired the electrical knowledge given that you had started out as an air frame fitter?
Well I just did that privately myself, reading electrical books and circuitry and that sort of thing. Engines, I was always tinkering with engines. I rebuilt

02:26:30:00

my motorbike engine, I had rebuilt the MG engine I had in the car. I just had an interest in engines from day one. And the air frame side of it well I had been taught that anyway with the courses. So I had a fairly good across the board knowledge of those things, well enough to influence the selection committee and I got onto the course.

02:27:00:00

What did the initial course in air frame fitting involve and how long did it go for?
It was at Wagga [Wagga] and they took you through all of the basics of air frame construction, rigging and maintaining the complete aeroplane other than the engine. I am glad I did it that way now looking back, I think I got a better understanding

02:27:30:00

of the whole aeroplane doing the air frame side and then engines later on. It was almost like fate intervened and pointed me in the right direction. At the time I didn’t think so, I was a little disappointed but it turned out to be the right way to go.
What sort of aircraft were you working with in training?
Oh very old Second World War

02:28:00:00

aircraft, Wirraways [fighter trainer] , Tiger Moths [trainer biplanes] , this is at Wagga they had these aircraft as training aides down there. Vampires, Meteors [jet fighters] that sort of thing.
So how did it work, would you be asked to pull one apart and put it back together?
Yes under the guidance of an instructor you would be asked to remove the undercarriage legs or parts of the

02:28:30:00

hydraulic system. Take it all apart and then under his guidance you would pull it down, test the various components in there, put it back together and then test it and put it back on the aircraft. There were all non-flying aeroplanes of course, static aircraft there as training aides.
And how many other people were doing that course at the time?

02:29:00:00

Maybe twenty-five of us going through at the same time.
And did you have leave while you were in Wagga?
No. there was no leave, you were there for that period of time. Each course was probably six months long. And you spent the whole time there, you didn’t get leave, you got leave at the end of it.

02:29:30:00

When you were posted to your next unit. And you would do your mechanics course first and then posted to a unit and you would do a year on the unit somewhere. I left Wagga and I was posted to 22 Squadron here at Richmond. And then after a year at Richmond I was posted back to Wagga to do my advanced air frame fitters course. Which I did and after that I was then posted out to another unit.

02:30:00:00

What unit was that?
I came back to 2AD at Richmond. That’s 2 Aircraft Depot.
And what happened then Ken?
I was with 2AD maybe eighteen months and then out of the blue I got a posting, I was posted to Malaysia for two and a half years.

02:30:30:00

So off I went to Malaysia from 1960 through to 62 almost 63. Spent the time over there. Was posted from Malaysia back to 486 Maintenance which was back on Richmond and from 1963

02:31:00:00

no 1962 to 1963 I was 486 and that’s when they called for the crew chiefs course and I did that course and went onto the air crew side of things.,
What did you know of the situation in Malaya before you went there?
Not a great deal except it was a state of

02:31:30:00

emergency up there. It was outside Penang and Butterworth hostilities were still on the border. We weren’t allowed to travel very far and so you were confined mainly to the local area and there was always that threat of the communist insurgency there but I didn’t see

02:32:00:00

anything of that at all. And soon the emergency was called off. And there was no longer an emergency and you could travel around the countryside except the border was out of bounds, you weren’t allowed to travel to Alor Star and places like that which had a high activity of communist problems there. So we stayed mainly around

02:32:30:00

Penang and Butterworth down as far as Taipei and Ipo where I was learning to fly. That’s how I spent my weekends.
So which squadron were you with at this stage?
I was with 2 Squadron in Butterworth, Canberra bombers.
Can you describe to me exactly what the Canberra bomber looks like?
Well the Canberra bomber

02:33:00:00

is a twin engined aircraft with large bomb bay doors underneath it. It will carry an ordinance of bombs. There were no guns on board, crew of two a navigator and a pilot and they would go out and bomb various targets. They weren’t a large aeroplane,

02:33:30:00

fast for the day but slow by today’s standard.
What sort of experience did you have working with that aircraft prior to going to Malaya?
None. I had to do a lot of on the job training within the squadron and we were brought up to speed. Every squadron works the dame way, when you

02:34:00:00

you post somebody form one squadron to another they have no experience on that particular aeroplane so you normally put them with somebody who does have experience and you almost become an apprentice to them for the short time that you need to qualify on each particular section of the aeroplane or system of the aeroplane. When you’re competent on each of those systems you are then checked and signed off on a

02:34:30:00

record of service that’s kept on every technician in the service until finally you are allowed to work by yourself.
How had the Canberra bomber been used in the services prior to Malaya?
Mainly in the training air crew on the operational side of things.
So what were you told prior to leaving Australia as to what your role was, what the nature of the conflict was and how long it might go for?

02:35:00:00

Back then I wasn’t briefed all that well. I was told that there was communist activity in the area that we had a role to play. The base was safe, well guarded. That our married quarters and quarters over there were secure. We were living on Penang Island

02:35:30:00

and Penang was fairly well secure. Not to concern myself about those sort of things. Not to travel because there was some sporadic incidents around the countryside. I would be just normal air force life and that’s mainly what I found.

02:36:00:00

What did you know about communism at the time?
They were bad. Not much more. I was twenty-one years old or something like that, very young,
Do you have to get that? Can I just

02:36:30:00

ask you again prior to going to Malaya what did you understand about communism?
Well to me it didn’t really register, as far as I was concerned they were just bad. I had heard enough to know that communism wasn’t my ideal and it was all wrong, that was my belief back then.

02:37:00:00

hasn’t changed all that much but at least I have learnt a little more.
You mentioned this concept that it was bad, as a young person where did you get those ideas from?
Mainly from the conflict that went on between North and South Korea. The communists were always portrayed as the bad guys and

02:37:30:00

as a young twenty odd year older that paints a picture in your mind and that’s what you believe.
What sort of contact had you had with Korean veterans in the forces?
Not a great deal.
So what about communism in Australia, was there a communist party in Bathurst?

02:38:00:00

Well not that I was aware of back then. Remember I left there as a boy and I just didn’t involve myself in any form of politics in those days at all. Politics to me was so foreign it didn’t enter the argument or discussion.

02:38:30:00

You mentioned that you loved adventure, I assume you hadn’t been overseas before you went to Malaya what were your expectations of going to an Asian country?
Well to me it was a total unknown there wasn’t a great deal shown about it. As soon as I was told there was brochures that I started to pick up and see.

02:39:00:00

It was a huge cultural shock for me as soon as I arrived, but I soon got used to that, and fitted in. and found that the Malays are really lovely people. In fact I have come to like most Asians. Especially Vietnamese and Chinese

02:39:30:00

they fit in very well here. But I am a lot older now and I have learnt that through time. Back when I was sent there I didn’t have the same appreciation that I have got today.
What was it like back then?
Well everyone was your enemy back then.

02:40:00:00

but that was in my mind. There was no trust. It’s, you know, I will try to go back forty years now and remember what it was like. The Vietnamese people in South Vietnam especially around Vung Tau when I was there were really nice people.

02:40:30:00

I didn’t come across anyone that gave me a hard time. I felt sympathetic to a lot of the soldiers that I carried out of a day time. I was just glad that it wasn’t me having to go out into the jungles and fight them.
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 03

03:00:30:00

Ken how did you actually arrive in Malaya?
By ship we were sent overseas on a ship. An ocean liner. Got on Sydney, got off in Singapore. I don’t even know why we got off in Singapore but we did and then we sailed up around the coast and

03:01:00:00

into Malaysia.
Was this your first time overseas?
Very first time. As I said it was a cultural shock back then.
In what way was it a shock?
Well I didn’t think I would see so many people riding bicycles. The smell was different. The way in which people lived was different.

03:01:30:00

The whole, I had never struck a culture like the Asians before, I had never come in contact with them and I think it was more of a shock than anything else. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but as a young fellow going overseas it was a shock to me.

03:02:00:00

But we soon got used to it, got on with life and things went fine.
Back home in Australia had you had any contact with people from Asian countries?
No none at all. That was my first contact.
And what differences did you find about the way people lived in Malaya?

03:02:30:00

The thing that comes to mind mostly is the toilet habits of Asians compared to what we were used to. That surprised me. And the climate was another huge change. Where I had been brought up with four seasons, they just seemed to have

03:03:00:00

one continuous season over there which was hot and hotter. High humidity and when it rained it bucketed down. That was the main difference.
So from Singapore did you go by ship to Malaya, did you continue on?
I am pretty sure that we sailed up

03:03:30:00

into Penang Harbour, but my memory is a little vague on that. I remember arriving in Singapore but I don’t ever remember getting off the ship in Penang but obviously I did. I think I was overawed with everything to the point that it had totally escaped me.

03:04:00:00

And of course coming back we sailed back by ship into Sydney Harbour and I got off the ship in Sydney Harbour and my parents were there to meet me. That’s hadn’t changed so that was great to get back and see them.
The journey over on the ship, what was the atmosphere like and who else was on board?

03:04:30:00

The only thing I can liken it to was something I had seen in the movies. Every night was a beautiful big dining lay out, everyone dressed for dinner. Tuxedoes and coats and ties and it was just like something out of the movies and I think I was over awed by that a little too. “What's a

03:05:00:00

boy like me from the bush doing on something like this?” But I soon grew accustomed to it.
Was it only air force people on board?
Oh no, there was lots of people on board not just air force people. There were lots of people being posted over at the same time, but there were a lot of tourists travelling around the world that were on board the ship. Same as it is today.

03:05:30:00

So in way you were paying customers on this ocean liner?
Yes. We didn’t dress in uniform either. We dressed in civilian clothes and came back the same way.
Could you describe what the base was like at Butterworth?
Yes it was very tropical, but looked like any other base I had been on. Neat and tidy very straight, hangers, taxi

03:06:00:00

ways, most of it was as I had visualised it from being on other base. It was just another air force base. Big, but just another air force base.
And what kind of contact did you have with the locals when you were living there?
We employed a lot of the Malaysian mechanics

03:06:30:00

in the hanger to help us out and I got on great with them. They were good workers and very good. But they looked at us as being in charge. They were that way. That was part of their make up, they looked at us as being in charge and they were there just to do the menial

03:07:00:00

tasks and run the errands, pick up the spanners and clean up the place. They didn’t do much more than that back then. Today they do a lot more technical work. And the amah [servant] that we had where we lived, she was a live in. She had her own room there.

03:07:30:00

She did the cleaning, kept the place spotless washed the clothes and minded children. That was her job. Air force paid for all of that.
What was your work routine like at Butterworth?
Off to work early in the uniform. Change out of uniform into work clothes which consisted of just a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and

03:08:00:00

shoes. Worked all day in the heat, high humidity days working on the aircraft or doing regular servicing. Same as any other base, it hadn’t changed. Same duties as you would find at any hangar throughout Australia.

03:08:30:00

What did you have to check yourself?
Well it depended, if I was on the tarmac I would carry out the pre-flight duties or after flight duties, they were inspections that had to be carried out on the aircraft. Refuel the aircraft. Secure the aircraft at the end of the day. Turn the aircraft around for every flight. The pilots

03:09:00:00

would come out, get in them and off they would go. When they got back all of these checks would be carried out again before the aircraft went out again. That’s what we would do. It was a set routine and there would be a sergeant and a corporal and several leading aircraftsmen to run that task.
How would you get from where you were sleeping out to where the planes were?
It was a bus, we were picked up by bus

03:09:30:00

from our living quarters, down to catch a ferry, across on the ferry from Penang Island to the mainland. And then bussed from the terminal through to the airport. In the afternoon you would climb on the bus and do everything in reverse again.
What were the shifts like?

03:10:00:00

Just regular day work from seven thirty in the morning until four thirty in the afternoon.
Can you just talk a little bit about the relationship between the ground staff and the pilots?
Right there was a class distinction there. The pilots who were all officers sort of set themselves to my way of thinking just a little bit above

03:10:30:00

everybody else. That’s the best way of describing it. Some of them you could talk to, some of them you couldn’t. They would just get out of the aeroplane and walk away. Wouldn’t talk to you. They would go in and fill out the report and you would have to go and read that report and go and fix

03:11:00:00

whatever they had written in the log book. So some of them were a little aloof, but that didn’t worry me.
Was there socialising between the different roles?
No none. I never socialised with them it was almost as if they were in a different air force.

03:11:30:00

What would you do in your spare time?
My spare time when I wasn’t flying, light aircraft that is I was fixing them. When I wasn’t fixing them I took on archery and I was doing a lot of archery. Fishing a few times. That’s about it.

03:12:00:00

But I was mainly involved in the civil aircraft side of things. My spare time was spent out at the local airport working on aero club aeroplanes.
What kind of people were members of that aero club?
Mainly old

03:12:30:00

English pukka [thorough, first class] gentlemen. They were the types that were in the aero club. God I had some funny times there too.
Could you explain?
Some of them I could some of them I couldn’t. They and a lot of Chinese businessmen were

03:13:00:00

involved in the aero club, I got on well with them. The flying instructor was Gus Haymen, he was an ex-army major and didn’t he have some wild stories to tell? Just sit and listen to him all of the time. I don’t know where his service was, I suspect it was in England or in the

03:13:30:00

Second World War, I am not quite sure. He was an ex-army major and flew.
What were some of the stories that you can remember from that time?
Just wild things that they had done back in those days. Nothing bawdy or anything like that just some of the capers they got up to.

03:14:00:00

And then we were spurred on, I say we because I had some friends that were with me in all of this, like Mal Rose, you may have interviewed him at some stage from Port Macquarie? Well he was up to his ears in these capers with me. We would try and copy what we had heard

03:14:30:00

in the past and take it from there. And I think we were trying to relive their stories and trying to do some of the same sorts of things. And sometimes we would and get away with it, sometimes we would get caught and get in all sorts of trouble and have to get yourself out of the trouble. But that was fun, they were the good times.

03:15:00:00

Could you explain just a few examples of some of those episodes?
He will probably get embarrassed me telling this one, when he got lost, he was on his licence test and he had taken off and well I thought he was lost he decided to fly to another air strip and land there and have some time, so I went searching for him

03:15:30:00

and I finally got back and landed and they said, “Have you seen your mate Mal?” I said, “No.” And they said, “Well that’s him just coming down where now.” And I had beaten him back so I ended up getting my licence before he did and he still doesn’t want to let me live that one down. And he still rubs it into me, that I had planned the whole thing but it hadn’t planned it at all. And

03:16:00:00

there was so many little capers that we got into that, there is a few I can’t talk about that would be an embarrassment to both of us.
Just the ones you can talk about?
You’re trying to push me back forty years now to remember all of these things.

03:16:30:00

No I can’t with any certainty relate any of those stories. Life was great back in those days. Not a worry in the world, no money but it didn’t seem to matter, we got by. I really enjoyed that part of my life. Really enjoyed it.

03:17:00:00

I think everyone else around me also enjoyed that part of their life as well. I am talking about Malaysia now and I had some wonderful moments over there, really good moments.
What was the relationship like with the British over there?

03:17:30:00

The red berets? I didn’t take to them all that much steered clear, there was one or two rough necks in them. Remember I was young , I was only

03:18:00:00

I would probably be a hundred and thirty pound in those days, so there wasn’t much of me so I wasn’t going to go and get tangled with those red beret guys they would eat me for breakfast. So I steered clear of them and their antics.

03:18:30:00

What kind of reputation did they have?
Oh they had a pretty rough reputation. They I think they would hit first and ask questions later type of thing. They were used mainly as the MPs [military police] type people.

03:19:00:00

There was another little incident I just remember there where I swapped badges with a Kiwi [New Zealander] and hid behind the door and this red beret was after me and he knew I was behind the door. He gave me three seconds to step out from behind the door or he was going to break it down around my ears. There were times like that.
Why was he searching for you?

03:19:30:00

Because he thought we had done something wrong and he was chasing us. And I said, “It wasn’t me it was an Australian you were chasing and I as you can see I am a Kiwi.” He knew bloody well I wasn’t a Kiwi I had just swapped badges with this guy.
Did you travel outside of Malaysia when you were based there?
Yes I did we had an exercise up in Ipo

03:20:00:00

in Thailand and I got to travel up to Ipo on one of those exercises. We flew up on the Canberras and I was there mainly to service the Canberra and at the end of the exercise we flew back to Butterworth.
And what sort of exercise was that?
Oh it was just a training exercise, same sort of training exercise you would have today. Fly to a foreign place, set up a

03:20:30:00

base, service the aircraft with equipment that you had at the time and turn them around and learn to function in that sort of environment, that’s mainly what the exercise was about.
Were there difficulties as a ground crew member working under those conditions, what sort of challenges were there?

03:21:00:00

There were all sorts of challenges, but I wasn’t in a position to make any of those decisions I just had to follow orders. So those decisions were made by senior people to me and I just had to carry out those orders to the best of my ability. If there were short comings in the procedures or the equipment I had to work with I let it be known, I let them know

03:21:30:00

that they were making life difficult for me trying to get me to do something that I was equipped to do and that was taken on board. And that’s the whole point of the exercises to find these things out. And I think we do that pretty well. There is a briefing, debriefing at the end of these exercises and from

03:22:00:00

that a lot of notes are take and they act upon them. Even today, the same sort of things happen today.
What sort of specific challenges were there working under those conditions?
Well refuelling is a big one when you haven’t got the right equipment to refuel the aeroplanes and you have got to get the fuel out of drums and into the planes. And you’re using little makeshift stands, and

03:22:30:00

backs of trucks and little hand pumps and you have got to pump three hundred gallons you can be working for hours just to refuel the aeroplanes and you don’t have the time to do that. Not only that you have to look at the contamination of the fuel. The fuel can’t be contaminated. The worst thing in the world

03:23:00:00

is to put contaminated fuel in . So you have got all of those aspects you have got to look at and by having these exercises it is a good way of developing new techniques and procedures for being able to work with adverse conditions.
Was that exercise in Thailand just with the Australians?
No there were Americans there, Kiwis there and Australians there,

03:23:30:00

it was a combined exercise.
What kind of contact would you have with say the Americans?
We had a lot of contact with the American Air Force on that particular exercise. The contact I had was mainly at the end of the day when you would sit down and have a beer with them and they would be telling you about their service and the way they have to operate and

03:24:00:00

and the things they have to operate with compared to the way in which we were operating and operating with, the aircraft we had. I was a little envious of some of the stuff they had to operate with compared to what we had to operate with.
How did the equipment and aircraft compare?
They just never seemed to run short of equipment.

03:24:30:00

It was always in abundance. They wanted special pumps or stands or tooling they seemed to get it, where we were a little hard pressed to get that stuff. We didn’t have the supply that they had, but we managed and got through., in the long run I think it makes us better at our job than the

03:25:00:00

Americans, that’s just my personal thoughts.
Why do you think that is?
Well because we learn to go around and find another way, where if they haven’t got the equipment to do the job they just say, “Hey it can’t be done.” Where we always find a way that it can be done. Bit different.
When you were at Butterworth did you have much c0otnact with the Americans?

03:25:30:00

None not at Butterworth. RAF [Royal Air Force] which was the Poms [British] yes. Had some contact with them but not with Americans. In fact there were no Americans in Malaysia.
So the Americans that you were doing the training exercise with in Thailand where were they based?
They I think some of them came out of

03:26:00:00

I am not sure if the flew directly in from Hawaii or from America to do the exercises. And I think they had some bases in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, places like that they had people in there but certainly not Malaysia.
What year was that training exercise?

03:26:30:00

That was in 1961.
Was there any talk or any mention made at all at that time of the situation in Vietnam?
No we knew there were communists along the Thai border. And we also knew there were difficulties

03:27:00:00

in Laos and Cambodia. But that’s about all we knew. When I say “we” I am talking about the technician on the floor. Maybe the hierarchy and the defence people knew a lot more, but it is not the sort of thing that they could come down to the smoko room and talk to you about.
So what were you told or what sort of rumours were going around about communism and insurgence along the Thai border?

03:27:30:00

Well communists were there to try and dominate the world. They were trying to convert everything. The state owned everything and you were told what you could do and couldn’t do, you had passes to go here and there. In a communist world

03:28:00:00

life wasn’t your own it was owned by the state. That’s more or less what we understood of communism back in those days.
We will just continue with what you actually knew or what rumours there were at the time about what was happening elsewhere in Cambodia for example?

03:28:30:00

Not a great deal because the papers that you bought over there in those days were all from Malaysia or Singapore and they wouldn’t speak a great deal about

03:29:00:00

what was going on in that part of the world. Just to say that there had been one or two incidents with communist activities and it didn’t really sink in to me that we were facing a big problem. That’s didn’t come until after I came home.

03:29:30:00

There was more news here at home about what was happening in South East Asia then there was in South East Asia in the newspapers over there .and I was surprised to learn the extent of the activity in Malaysia where I had been. We were hearing at Butterworth that the communist problem was just about at an end in Malaysia

03:30:00:00

and Cambodia and Laos were thousands of miles away so it didn’t matter. Different story when I got home though and read some of the reports here.
So what was the media coverage like when you got home in terms of communism?
Well it was more or less

03:30:30:00

repeating the same lines, that the “red horde” was coming down from the north and taking over all of the countries in its path and would eventually end up on the doorstep of Singapore and from Singapore it was a stepping stone to Indonesia, Indonesia and the islands would fall, “And there they are right on our doorstep”.

03:31:00:00

This was 1962. And I thought, “Well better people than me have written this and so I have got to believe what's there”. And as soon as I got into 38 Squadron and onto the Caribous and it was mentioned that we were going to end up in Vietnam that brought

03:31:30:00

it all home to me that some of this might be true. Up until that point it was just another story.
What was the general mood like in Australia at that time when there was talk of what was going on in South East Asia, before Vietnam was on? Is it easy to gauge what that was like?

03:32:00:00

No it wasn’t easy to gauge. The media were bringing stories about communists. But remember we had just gone through the Korean War and the horrific stories that had come out of Korea were on everybody’s minds and so the journalists of the day were writing these stories

03:32:30:00

as if the communists had completely taken over in South East Asia and were right on our doorsteps. It is a thing that I have got even with journalists today, a lot of them are hell bent on trying to create the news rather than report the news. So they write in such a manner that you would swear blind that things

03:33:00:00

were really happening but they weren’t they were in the minds of people.
So being based in Malaya for those two and a half years and coming home and discovering that people had a different opinion of what the status was?
I found that so totally wrong that I was starting to

03:33:30:00

talk to people and say, “This is wrong that can’t be happening just spent two and a half years in Malaysia and I didn’t see any of this happening whatsoever. They’re trying to, these people who are writing these stories are trying to make the news rather than write the news.” So I fell into that way of thinking.
Did you feel at the time that

03:34:00:00

you were informed by the defence forces about what was really going on? Did you feel that you were being kept in the loop in Malaysia?
No I didn’t need to be. I there was no threat in Malaysia when I was there, it was at the end of what they call “The confrontation with

03:34:30:00

communism”. It was clearing up and our people had done a magnificent job. They had really fought back the communist insurgents and we were all fine and that’s the way I looked at it. There was no need for the Defence Department to come out and tell me that everything was okay when I knew in my own mind that

03:35:00:00

everything was okay. When we got ourselves involved in the Vietnam War that was a different matter. We were then taken into briefing rooms and briefed about what was happening. But I couldn’t go out and talk to anyone about it, I was briefed and that was the way it was to stay. We didn’t even discuss this between ourselves, it was our briefing and nobody

03:35:30:00

else was yo know about it.
Was that difficult to do?
Not really. The one thing the defence department didn’t want was scare mongering. And if you repeat a story enough times and you scare enough people you’re planting the seed of doubt into peoples’ minds and they are believing something

03:36:00:00

that’s not true. We were only going off intelligence briefings and nothing more. There was no point in talking to other people about it. We were asked not to and we didn’t.
You explained later how you cane to be on the Caribous, where did you go when you were first assigned that path?

03:36:30:00

Did you go and collect the aircraft from anywhere?
Well because we didn’t have any aeroplanes in Australia at that time we had to do our training on DC3s [type of aircraft] and we flew cargo trips all around Australia, Darwin ,down to Tasmania, Western Australia. These were going on every day of the week

03:37:00:00

resupplying other bases using the DC3 and at the same time giving us the training in the same type of operations new were to go onto on the Caribou. We were then selected to go to Canada and pick the aircraft up and crew them home. Before we did that we did a full course on the aircraft in Canada. We were put through all of the engine systems, electrical systems,

03:37:30:00

air frame systems. The internal tanking system in the fuselage. The long range oil tanks and fuel systems and we flew those aircraft from Canada back to Australia. We had our hitches along the way with props leaking and you would have to stop and fix those and engines that had a problem. Cylinder change or whatever

03:38:00:00

happened along the way you would have to fix it. Remember they were brand spanking new aeroplanes coming out of the factories. And we took them on our shake down trials around Canada and the northern states of the US of A [United States of America] and then we flew them all of the way home when we were convinced that the aircraft would be fine to get here. But

03:38:30:00

like anything it is a piece of machinery that for no particular reason something will break down or stop working and you have to renew it.
What is it like flying in a Caribou?
Noisy for a start, very noisy. It is not the most comfortable aeroplane to fly in but we likened it to a brown paper bag. In fact I was going to write a book and call it

03:39:00:00

My Life Inside a Brown Paper Bag, because it is brown painted, like a brown paper bag. It is so thin it is like paper. If you hit it hard enough you will punch a whole through her and if you leave it out in the rain it will soak up water like there is no tomorrow, same as a brown paper bag. And what do you carry in a brown paper

03:39:30:00

bag? You have carried your lunch, you can carry your lunch in there. You have thrown up in a brown paper bag? Many a person has thrown up in one of those so it is life inside a brown paper bag.
Was that the nickname that it was given straight away?
No the “Green gravel truck” it was called.
Why was it called that?
Because it had this greeny brown tinge to it and you would carry anything in it same as you would in an old gravel truck.

03:40:00:00

And when you first arrived in Canada to collect the aircraft, what were your first impressions of it?
Of the Caribou? Well we had seen a demonstration model fly in Australia and we thought, “What a magnificent aeroplane, it really is a magnificent aeroplane”. When I got to Canada we were each assigned an aeroplane and I in fact sent the factory out on strike

03:40:30:00

over that aeroplane of mine. We were given a schedule of inspection after we had done all of our courses on it. and our commanding officer at the time said, “I want you to thoroughly,” each engineer was assigned to the aeroplane. And that’s what we were, we were in fact flight engineers on an aircraft, he said, “I want you to do a one hundred percent check of everything in the aeroplane and when you are thoroughly convinced that everything is fine

03:41:00:00

you can then sing it off and we will take it home, but not until you have checked everything. I don’t want you to take anybody’s word for it, just check them out. Remember we have got our bums in this thing and we have got a long way to go.” “All right”, we started with the engine cowls and we through and did all of the checks. So I decided to pull one of the filters and inside the filter was more

03:41:30:00

metal than I have ever seen in a filter before. So I complained bitterly to the foreman and he said, “Oh that’s only swarf [particles from metal parts worn away] you will find you usually get that in a new engine.” And I said, “You have got to be kidding me, there is not that much metal comes out in a swarf, there is something dreadfully wrong with the inside of this engine.“ he wasn’t prepared to do anything so I took it further I went to the CO [commanding officer] of…
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 04

04:00:00:00

We were talking about pulling the engine out of the Caribou?
Well pulling the filters out. And I was totally shocked with the amount of metal that was in this filter and because I couldn’t get the foreman or the guy in charge to take any notice I went to my commanding officer and showed him and he was totally incensed and he took it up the

04:00:30:00

chain and demanded that they change that engine. And as soon ad the people from Pratt and Whitney took one look at it they said, “Yep that engine has got to be changed”. That wasn’t the end of it, they were waiting to send the factory on holidays and now they have to work back and do this engine change.

04:01:00:00

So while they are preparing to change the engine I took a flash light and started opening up a few panels and looking up inside and when you rivet two panels together you rivet them together with one eighth rivets, so to keep the rivet holes all in alignment you put in what its called skin pins. There are pins put in

04:01:30:00

temporarily along a panel of metal and then you systematically rivet the two panels together by removing the skin pin, putting a rivet in there and riveting it over and then go to several skin pins up, removing it and put another skin pin in so that you keep it in alignment all of the way. Well when I looked into the bowels of this aeroplane here is one panel

04:02:00:00

that is only held together with a line of skin pins, they had forgotten to do the riveting of this particular panel. So I calmly went to the foreman again and said, “Look when you finish changing the engine I would suggest that you finish riveting that panel that is up inside there.” And if you have ever seen a bald guy rip the rest

04:02:30:00

of his hair out he did. He was so mad with me for finding this second fault because he now has to recall his people if it is true what I said. And he got a flash light and he got in there and he couldn’t believe his eyes, that this panel had been assembled and someone had forgotten to rivet a whole line of rivets up there. But even so he was

04:03:00:00

even more mad that his inspectors had missed it. And so he then threw the flash light as far as he could down the hanger and stormed off, he was so mad. Well they had to come back and damn near have to pull that aircraft half apart to rivet that line of rivets which put them, further behind and of course they couldn’t go on their holidays and my name was mud in

04:03:30:00

the place. But my CO said, “Great that’s what you’re doing the inspection for”. So we got out of there a little bit late and got underway to fly back to Australia. I didn’t have another problem after that.
How unusual was it to have those sorts of problems in a military aircraft?
Very. It was as if they were rushing to get the aeroplanes finished so that they could get away on holidays.

04:04:00:00

We were once they got rid of us they closed up the factory and taking their annual leave the quicker they got rid of us the quicker they could go on holidays, but I soon put a spanner in those works.
What was so revolutionary about the introduction of the Caribou at that time?
We had and the

04:04:30:00

rest of the world didn’t have an aeroplane with the capabilities of the Caribou. An aeroplane that could carry six thousand pounds for thousands of miles and put it down on a football field. And lift the same aeroplane off the football field with troops, quickly convert from a freight capability into a paratrooping capability.

04:05:00:00

Quickly as anything. It is ideal. Even today there is nothing that will replace a Caribou other than another Caribou. They are out of production now. And the defence force is having difficulty trying to find something that will come up to par with the Caribou aircraft. We still have a squadron of them flying, 35 Squadron, still flying out of Townsville,

04:05:30:00

still the same aircraft that we brought out here in the 1960s. Still flying today.
So when you went to Canada, you mentioned that the Caribou could perform all sorts of tasks and what incredibly versatile. What sort of concept did you have of the conflict in Asia and how that plane might be used and why it was going to be so good?

04:06:00:00

Because it was designed to do exactly what we were going to be trained to do in Vietnam. Exactly. It was an ideal aeroplane to be put into some of the fields of Vietnam that quickly laid PSP, perforated steel plating strips; but we also used that aeroplane into the highlands of New Guinea. And that’s where it really excelled,

04:06:30:00

in and out of some of those strips where you wouldn’t put a light aeroplane. It was really the type of aircraft to use up there.
Before we go on and talk about Vietnam I just wanted to ask a few more questions about Malaya? The conflict had started with some attacks on the rubber plantations, what sort of contact did you have with any of the plantation owners?

04:07:00:00

Not a great deal. There were one or two plantation owners in the aero club. The aircraft in the flying club were used as payroll aeroplanes, mid week they were used as payroll aeroplanes flying from plantation to plantation and what have you. Because to send monies

04:07:30:00

to the plantation or pick up money, was fraught with danger on the road where the gangs and communists were raiding them. So that was I didn’t actually have nay contact with them but I had all of the stories told to me about what was happening.
What sort of stories were they?
About attacks by the communists on the plantations and the people who were working there.

04:08:00:00

These were repeated to me by the people I came into contact with in the aero club.
So how did they view the conflict and the threat to their livelihoods do you think?
Well they were dead set against the communists. Dead set against them. And

04:08:30:00

fought it the best way they could. Some of them took up arms themselves and tried to beat it that way. There is really not much more I can tell you about it other than that. I didn’t have any first hand knowledge of any of the activities.
Can you explain exactly what the nature of those bombing operations was? Were they still going on bombing ops [operations] while you were in Malaya?

04:09:00:00

Oh yes we would load them up of a morning and they would disappear and they would come back at lunchtime with no armaments. When you asked where they had been they would say, “Just for a run along the border.” That’s all you would ever hear. They would come back, we would refuel and rearm them and off they would go again. That’s all you ever got to hear.

04:09:30:00

When you say loaded and armed them can you tell me specifically what sort of weapons and bombs they were equipped with?
Just probably twenty pounders, a lot of them. Each bomb was only a twenty pound

04:10:00:00

anti-personnel type bomb that they would drop along the borders. Shrapnel would go everywhere, that’s about the only thing that they would drop and usually on known targets.
What might those targets have been?
Reported activity in a certain area or

04:10:30:00

maybe a convoy, but I was never privy to any of the intelligence reports on that activity. We would only hear stories from some of the crew that flew from time to time.
So how would you know to get an aircraft ready for an operation?
Because there was always a sergeant

04:11:00:00

in charge of the team and he would give you instructions. Remember you don’t do things off your own bat in the military. Usually you were given a specific instruction; “You refuel that aeroplane, get it ready turn it around. When you have finished that one refuel that one and turn it around. It needs the tyres to be checked.” And the other guy is an

04:11:30:00

engine fitter, “I want you to check both engines and the quantities of oil in each.,” and when that was done you would go in and sign off in the log that all of those tasks were completed.
So what was the turn around?
In time? Well that would depend, if the aircraft wasn’t tasked to go out, let’s say it got in at twelve and had to go out at two you had a

04:12:00:00

two hour time limit. If it was a half an hour turn around that’s exactly what you had to do. You had to do that job in that time. There was no ifs, buts or maybes, you got in and did it and away it went. You met a very tight tasking schedule.
So how frequent were those bombing operations?

04:12:30:00

Well you wouldn’t know until you went to work the next day whether you had that scheduled tasks, the hierarchy would know but you on the ground wouldn’t know until you were asked to prepare that aircraft to fly. You weren’t taken in and briefed as to what was happening for the month or week ahead or even the next day. It just

04:13:00:00

happened. The chain of command would brief those who were required to know. And you would finally get your orders from whoever was in charge of that servicing team. And you would just do your specific tasks. No point asking questions or having a sticky beak because you wouldn’t be told.
What were your specific tasks relating to the Canberra Bombers?

04:13:30:00

I was airframer, I mainly did the work on the air force side of it. If it came back and had loose rivets in a panel I would have to re-rivet it up. Or if it needed the tyres changing I would have to remove the wheels and put new wheels and tyres on. If it needed the hydraulic system looked at I would have to look at the hydraulic system and

04:14:00:00

work out what was going on. The controls, all of the controls systems were part of my function as well.
Was there anything about the jungle conditions that impacted your job or the state of the aircraft?
No. If it was I didn’t notice it.
So what sort of damage might the aircraft come back with? Was there any case of copping flak [anti-aircraft fire] or?

04:14:30:00

No no small arms damage at all, I didn’t see any.
Were there cases of having to go on any search and retrieve missions?
Not from my point of view there wasn’t no.
Were there any other sort of surveillance? We have talked to other veterans from Malaya who talked about surveillance missions relating to Indonesia,

04:15:00:00

were you aware of any of those at all?
I knew that we flew down in that area but I didn’t ask any questions. I just knew they did it.
How did you know that?
Only from what I heard that’s all.
What had you heard?
Just that the flight was down towards Indonesia and they had

04:15:30:00

returned. To me it was just another flight. I didn’t really worry about where the aircraft was going. It just, as long as I did my job and it got airborne it took off and flew to wherever it flew to where it was tasked to fly. My job was to make sure it got off the ground safely and back on the ground safely and then to re-service it for its next task

04:16:00:00

wherever that might be. I never questioned it. There were a lot of times where the aircraft went off and came back and they would quickly take camera film out and whip it off to the intelligence people and have it developed and

04:16:30:00

analysed but I didn’t concern myself with it.
How often might the plane be equipped with cameras?
There were one or two aeroplanes we had that were specially equipped with cameras, but I didn’t even have to look after the cameras;they had aerial photography people that put the cameras in took the cameras out.

04:17:00:00

Took the film, developed it and then that would go to special briefings. See the questions you’re asking me you would probably get more answers out of crews that flew those missions, whereas I didn’t leave the base, I was there to service the aircraft and turn them around.
Well let’s talk about what happened when you got back from Canada.

04:17:30:00

When you got back from that first contact with the Caribous, what happened when you got back to Australia?
We got back and then started our training schedule on the aircraft doing various tasks around Australia, helping the army training their people and we did an awful lot of flying and training.

04:18:00:00

But remember when I went to Canada and I got back I had already been to Vietnam, I got back from Vietnam I had never trained on the aeroplane until I got to Malaysia, now that seems strange doesn’t it? But I was posted off

04:18:30:00

to Vietnam before we had any aeroplanes. So I did my training in Malaysia on the Caribous, the Caribous that were being sent back to Australia only arrived as far as Malaysia and from Malaysia we flew across to Vietnam and landed and then started on the

04:19:00:00

job training in the aircraft in a war zone. So that was a bit daunting. When I returned from Vietnam I was then tasked to go to Canada to pick up the rest of the aeroplanes over there and bring them back. So it is a little bit

04:19:30:00

back to front, the first lot of aeroplanes that went to Vietnam didn’t come back to Australia. They flew back and landed in Malaysia and from Malaysia we went across to Vietnam. I flew from here to Malaysia in a 707 [type of aircraft] and got off at the other end ready to go to war with no aeroplanes.
So what sort of preparation did you have in Australia?

04:20:00:00

Only flying in DC3s [Douglas transports] that was the only training preparation we had.
So you were being trained in a DC3 with the idea that you would meet up with the Caribous?
Yep.
How were you being prepared for the Vietnam conflict?
Well we just had to carry out our job the same as

04:20:30:00

what we had been trained for on the DC3s, just keep the engines running and make sure you got up and down okay. So that was the specific role. We learnt quickly and trained in Malaysia before

04:21:00:00

going to Vietnam.
This must have been around the time that the first troops went to Vietnam?
Yeah I was on the very first lot to go there.
So what was your understanding and what was your expectation of the war, of what it would mean in terms of your day to day operations and tasks?

04:21:30:00

Only what we had been briefed on, to be wary of everyone and everything over there that we were going to get shot at on take offs and landing from the various places there wasn’t much you could do about that except protect yourself with flak jackets and helmets and what have you.

04:22:00:00

Apart from that it was just freight loads and parachuting loads and supply dropping missions that we had to fly over there.
In terms of the briefings what were you told of the enemy and what kind of anti-aircraft contacts you might be?
Well I remember them saying to me, “Don’t ever

04:22:30:00

worry about these people they don’t know how to lead. They just fire indiscriminately at aeroplanes and usually they miss”. And I remember his briefing so vividly it was the Americans telling us this. And then the surprise of my life as we flew up this valley, to get hit with these six rounds. What we didn’t know was that they didn’t have to lead. You know what I mean when I say lead?

04:23:00:00

Can you explain it?
Well when the aeroplane is flying along they have to know how much to aim the gun in front of the aeroplane and fire it so by the time the bullet gets there the aeroplane has hit there and the bullet strikes the aeroplane. That’s lead. And they said, “Don’t worry they have no concept of lead don’t worry about it.” We didn’t have to worry about that, all they did, they were smarter that we thought,

04:23:30:00

they sat on the top of a hill and saw us flying over a valley, saw that we were going to go right over the top of this tree so they just aimed at the top of the tree and kept on firing at the top of the tree and we flew through the bullets. Six of them. the first one missed my nose by six inches as it came through. The next one was nine inches behind the back of my head and the next two or three went through the fuselage and the last one shot the elevator hinge out.

04:24:00:00

“That’s a surprise”. And all you here was “whap, whap”, it is the sonic crack of the bullet as it zips past, all you hear.
Can I ask you to take me back from take off on that operation, what you were doing, where you were flying and what happened when you were fired upon?

04:24:30:00

Well yes. We were flying to a small outpost, boy I could tell you some funny stories, some of them you should see what we did up there. I had a load of barbed wire coil fitted on a platform and I had three of these

04:25:00:00

on board. And this stuff is, you can’t even brush up against it, it would rip your clothes apart. Just barbed wire. What they did was they used the barbed wire to put right around the compound on these little outposts. And they would quickly clear an area for the aircraft to land and take off, make a very rough strip and you would have

04:25:30:00

maybe two or three Americans and a bunch of South Vietnamese people in this one area and they would guard a village, they would be the contact for this village. And so they thought that by protecting the area with barbed wire all around it at least that would give them some idea. So we would fly out to this place land and drop off the barbed wire. And we were on one of these missions this day when we got

04:26:00:00

hit with these rounds. When we offloaded the wire I remember the sergeant saying, and the language, my oh my it was colourful. He said, “You know the last thing I need is bloody barbed wire. Have a look behind the compound here.” And he had platform after platform after bloody platform

04:26:30:00

of barbed wire. And we just got shot up coming into this place delivering him more barbed wire. He said, “It is not barbed wire I need, when you get back to Saigon will you tell that useless so-and-so supply guy down there I want ammunition! I haven’t got any ammunition but as you can see I have got barbed wire up the gazoo! I don’t need any more barbed wire!” and so I said, “Look I am sorry

04:27:00:00

we have got another task after this you’re going to have to off load the barbed wire. Beside I am going to have to go and find out where the bullet came in and where it went out.” So I spent time looking around and checking to make sure that nothing got hit. That’s what I did meanwhile his men offloaded the barbed wire and we took off out of there and away we went off home again.

04:27:30:00

And I get back and we loaded up with ammunition next time but I had to go to another place further out which was another place which we had to go and land in. so I landed there, taxi up and open the doors and the sergeant looked in, “What the hell is that?” I said, “It is ammunition.”

04:28:00:00

He said, “I do not want bloody ammunition, I have got more ammunition then I know what to do with I want barbed wire!” I said, “Well you had better talk to the guy who is in the next valley over there because he has got more barbed wire than he knows what to do with.” So this is what was going on. This was the frustrating part about it. You would go back and talk to the supply people and

04:28:30:00

they would say, “Look that went to the right place,” after a while they had us believing that we took this stuff to the wrong place but we weren’t. We were taking it to the right place. One guy screaming because he has got too much ammunition and another guy screaming because he hasn’t got enough and he has got too much barbed wire, and the other guy wants barbed wire. They were the sort of things, the communication problems within the American organizations, that’s what they were up against.

04:29:00:00

Meanwhile the aircraft, we took the aircraft back home and it had to be fixed, it had to be patched, it had six bullet holes in it and one of them had gone through an elevator hinge and it had to be changed. So they fixed everything on the aircraft and I was relieved back at Vung Tau

04:29:30:00

and the next guy he headed off and they were up at Natrang I think it was and they their task when they got to Natrang was to put on what was called an A22, an A22 was a, you can imagine a platform about two feet high full of

04:30:00:00

equipment. Could be anything on there, food, ammunition, barbed wire even, all on this big platform weighing about a tonne. And it is called a LEPS. Short for “low extraction parachute system” and you would fly along very low to the ground with the back doors open and the ramp level

04:30:30:00

and you had a parachute going off this rigged load up into what was called the bomb rack. And then the bomb rack can be released manually or from the cockpit, the co-pilot can flick a switch and arm it and electrically release the load as you call it. And he flies along and the wheels can be actually touching the ground. Now it comes out of the aircraft and it has only got to drop

04:31:00:00

down a few feet because the chute at the back deploys and pulls the load out of the aircraft and it lands on the ground and it slides so the aircraft can continue on, climb and fly away home without having to land. No we have put a tonne of supplies onto the ground without having to land.

04:31:30:00

What they didn’t know in this particular aeroplane, 285 I think the number was, this is the aeroplane I got shot up in. One of the bullet holes, the one that came down through the top and out through there, along the side. Now along the side was the electrical cable that armed the bomb rack and it had gone through and chopped that in half, but on the way through it

04:32:00:00

nicked the cable for the manual release and half cut it through. So when they got out to where they were going Aro [?] a place called Aro, same place I have written about there in that poem, they come in to do the LEPS drop and the co-pilot flicks on the arming switch, fires it, nothing happened.

04:32:30:00

So he said, so they went around again and this time the crew chief was going to manually release the load and he pulled the handle and it came out in his hand because the cable had been half chopped through with the bullet. And there they are got no way of getting rid of this load, it is armed, there is a parachute sitting on the bomb rack, they have lost the electrical cable to it and they have lost the mechanical cable to it,

04:33:00:00

there is no way in the world you are going to go down and physically operate the thing from the back because you will go down with the load. So the pilot looked down and made an assessment he said, “Well it doesn’t look too bad down there I think we can land on that piece of ground and we will dorp this load off to them.” That’s how desperate they were for supplies. But what they didn’t know was that there was actually a gully there and

04:33:30:00

someone, one of the Americans had filled the gully in with earth, soft earth to make it look flat so that the LEPS would have just slid along on the soft flat earth, that’s all it was going to be a LEPS drop. So they went around, assessed the situation and actually landed on this ground and the front wheel went into this soft dirt and buried the front of the aeroplane into the

04:34:00:00

ground and of course the aeroplane just folded up, tore the undercarriage off, the aeroplane just went in and slid to a halt and that aeroplane is still buried there today on the side of Aro. And that all came about by that shooting the week before they offloaded the LEPS out of the back of this damaged aeroplane.

04:34:30:00

They got their supplies but destroyed an aeroplane to do it.
What happened to the crew?
The crew got out of it okay, they were well and truly strapped in. What happened to them physically or what happened to them service wise I don’t know. It was just one of the hazards of war.
How were you strapped into a Caribou?

04:35:00:00

With a very firm [arrangement] . Well in the cockpit you had fairly good shoulder harness and brace, down the back you were just strapped in with a normal waist strap, they were pretty safe they were okay.
I know we touched on it earlier but can you just walk me through what the inside looked like in terms of the seats and where you would be, and take me to where those bullets were you were flying through that particular day?

04:35:30:00

Well the bullets came through from above so they came down through the top of the aeroplane. Now the top of the aeroplane would be about that high [indicates] . The bullets came down through the top on an angle down like so [indicates] . I was standing up closer to the top and that’s why the bullet passed like that in front of me I know that from where I was standing where the bullet holes came in and

04:36:00:00

where they went out . And in fact because they couldn’t find the bullets, where it went in one side and out the other, so the people at the base actually cut the bullet hole out of the skin, because they had to put a patch there and presented me with the bullet hole. The very first rounds to go through a Caribou

04:36:30:00

and then they photographed it and it went into the local newspaper the crew standing around and me holding this bullet hole which was my pride and joy.
How did you first know, I mean I haven’t been in the service so when you were under attack did you see it first or hear it first?
Oh no you only hear it, you never see it.

04:37:00:00

You hear it and you know damn well where you were standing., it is just the crack of a bullet as it passes on its way, that’s all you hear you don’t hear anything else. It is like the crack of a whip, you know like a stock whip you hear crack. That’s the crack you hear.

04:37:30:00

We have had guys sitting on an esky and all of our lunches in the esky, the bullet has actually gone through the esky and passed about there as it came out. There is lots of stories like that.

04:38:00:00

You mentioned that you had been briefed and told that the enemy couldn’t lead and here you were in the first aircraft to be fired upon. What happened in the aircraft then as soon as the bullets were fired?
There was a surprised look on everyone’s face, there was everyone trying to look for where it came from, because you don’t see the holes straight away, you just hear the bullets

04:38:30:00

going through and later on when you land you the captain does a quick check of the systems to make sure all of the systems are still working okay. Then you make an approach. You advise people on the ground or the tower and you make a precautionary landing, come in and land and

04:39:00:00

finally come in and stop and then you get out and start looking to see where the bullets had gone through.
Given that you had been briefed not to expect that how did that change procedure?
Yes it did change procedure a lot. One we didn’t fly at low level. We certainly made spiral approaches into

04:39:30:00

anywhere that we were landing, came in high and then did these spirals down trying to make yourself as small a target as possible. Until you got onto the ground, when you took off you would keep the aircraft low until you got plenty of flying speed and then pull it up so that you climbed away rapidly and spiralled up. Once you got to three thousand feet you were safe. There was very little that could get you at three thousand feet.

04:40:00:00

In fact on one mission that we went out on we were on a night missions and we were in the second aircraft and the lead aircraft was an American aircraft and we had ninety one million candle power flares on board.

04:40:30:00

They are big phosphorous flares. Now my job was to set the barometer on the back end of this and I had four chutes that I could fire, one two three or four, out over the enemy and I would set the barometer so that it fell fifteen hundred feet under the aircraft before it ignited and then once it ignited this big parachute would come out and it

04:41:00:00

would slowly drift down. In the meantime as soon as it went off it would light the place up like daylight so that if there was a battle going on down there, it would show. There was no hiding it would show up. Four of them were brighter than the sun. Of course the enemy would then start shooting at the aircraft but because we were at the height at which we were

04:41:30:00

the trajectory of the bullet, it would curl away under the aeroplane. And of course we could see it, because what they were using was tracer round and we could see a tracer round. I used to sit there and watch them coming up at us and just curl away underneath. But the aircraft in front of us was a thousand feet below us and it got hit with a tracer round straight through the centre of the aeroplane. Well

04:42:00:00

it was a hot round…
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 05

05:00:30:00

Ken you were talking about the plane and the bullet had gone through?
Yes the incendiary round went through the middle of the magnesium flares and you can imagine what would happen a one million candle power magnesium flare going off in amongst a whole bunch of them. Well that aircraft went down

05:01:00:00

down like a Roman candle. So our commanding officer said, “Well from this point on you’re all going to wear parachutes.” Now this created a big problem because there was not one of us had ever jumped before. And we expressed that to the CO said, “Look this might be fine but none of us have ever jumped before in a parachute.” And he said, “All right you thought you were having a day off on Sunday,

05:01:30:00

well your day off is cancelled, you will all front up to the hangar, all air crew, you will all put a parachute on you’re going to go up and jump.” And I thought, “There is no way in the world he can do this”. But, come Sunday morning, “Left right left right, put your parachute on climb on board.” I hung back and hung back and I thought, “This is not really happening”, but it did and I got on and I was one of the last ones on.

05:02:00:00

Which of course meant that I was going to be first off. And I stood in that doorway and I looked outside and I stood in that parachute and I checked that it was connected about ten times. And I don’t know why but as soon as that green light went go I just automatically stepped out of the aircraft, I had never jumped before in my life. And down I come.

05:02:30:00

And I of course the first crew to get down, one complete crew, captain, co-pilot and engineer had to crew the next mission to carry the surplus crew on the next flight. And he wanted us to all experience a jump so that we wouldn’t be afraid to jump. And so I got down and I thought, “What a buzz, really that was great”. And I said to the captain, the first pilot to arrive

05:03:00:00

down was Ron Raver and the first co-pilot, I can’t think of who it was now, anyway I said to the captain, “Look sir I have got to do that again, I have just got to prove to myself that I can do this. That was such a buzz but I have got to go back and

05:03:30:00

find out if I am as scared the second time as I was the first time.” He said, “Oh well get a parachute and put it on and be the last one out when the” so I ended up being the first one out of the first jump and the last one out on the second jump, I jumped again. And that was great. I thought this was marvellous.

05:04:00:00

Now I was drifting over water, we were doing a water jump, but I was drifting further out to sea and this Vietnamese Navy junk saw that I was going further out to sea so he took off after me. And I didn’t notice, because when I jumped the second time I was so full of confidence, “I have done this before this is a breeze”. And I didn’t jump down I dived down.

05:04:30:00

And of course I dived through my own shrouds and now I am in a mess because I can’t untangle the shrouds so I started instinctively pulling at them like this [indicates] and of course that was starting to help because the next thing I knew the parachute stayed still but I started to turn. And when I stopped spinning the parachute was falling open and I am there

05:05:00:00

facing the wrong way. Instead of looking at the aeroplane that was going away from me I am looking out the back. And I can’t see what the aeroplane's done, it is gone. Anyway that’s fine. What you had to do if you were going into deep water was undo your harness, hit the buckle and just hang on. As your feet went into the water you put your arms straight above your head

05:05:30:00

and let the parachute go off. Have you ever been to Asia? Well when you fly over the waters of Asia you will see that they have these fishing traps in the water, big poles that stick out of the water and they are in a triangular shape, a V and underneath the water was a net the fish go under the water and get caught in the net. And of course I can’t

05:06:00:00

see anything, and I am hanging on and I am about five hundred feet above the water and I hit this harness and it releases and now I am hanging on. And I am thinking, “Why isn’t that water getting any closer?” Next thing this spike goes between my legs like this [indicates] and the first thing I think, because I am going down and it is coming up like that. And the first thing I thought was

05:06:30:00

I am in a fishing trap I have landed in a fishing trap in the water. Everything is so fuzzy to me now, I the next thing there was this sudden jerk, my parachute is caught up there and I can’t make out what it is, it is up there and I look down and my weight has take over now and I have dropped out of the harness and I landed right inside an earthenware jar this round

05:07:00:00

and standing about this high. I went straight into it. And I smashed this thing into a million bits. And I am sitting there all dazed and looking up and there is my parachute caught in the rigging lines of this junk, that was the mast that went between my legs, and my parachute is caught up there and I am sitting on the deck of a Vietnamese junk, inside an earthenware jar that has shattered to pieces.

05:07:30:00

I got bruised elbows and bits missing off me and everybody on shore including the CO [commanding officer] heard the bang and knew that I was dead. So he now had to write a report on how this whole incident occurred. They send a speedboat out and I am still alive and I get on board and get back and my commanding officer said, “You get yourself straight to the medical centre; you have just

05:08:00:00

fallen down the stairs of the mess.” So I had to go through a whole medical because I had fallen down the stairs. And that was my episode jumping out of a Caribou. So I can safely say that I have jumped from fifteen hundred feet landed inside an earthenware jar onboard a Vietnamese junk without a parachute.
How lucky did you feel?

05:08:30:00

Oh I was on top of the world. The shock of doing what I did had obliterated everything else. And the buzz I got after that it was great, it is still a talking point today.
Was there much instruction about the safety of a Caribou and what to do?
Oh yeah. As far as operating it.

05:09:00:00

Continual. You were updated and briefed all of the time on safety aspects of the plane. It was an ongoing things. My whole life was how to prepare for every type of incident or problems associated with operating around an aeroplane. Safety, safety, safety it was drummed into you, still is today.

05:09:30:00

Ken I might just ask you to go back to when you first arrived in Vietnam, can you describe how you made the trip over?
Yes we flew in Caribous but we weren’t allowed to fly across other countries to get there and

05:10:00:00

of course Thailand is in between . So what we had to do was fly down the coast of Malaysia, head to sea, outside territorial waters, and then head for Vietnam via the ocean route and arrived overhead Vung Tau, the holiday place of the South Vietnamese people. It was their

05:10:30:00

Queensland I guess. Their holiday area. That’s where we were based.
And what were your impressions of the base at Vung Tau?
Really they were dreadful. There was perforated steel plating everywhere, PSP that

05:11:00:00

matting that they laid together to build an airstrip. It was down and it was covered with all sorts of grease and tyre and rubber, it was slippery to walk on and worse when it rained and it rained just about every day when we first got there. We were in tents, the sewerage was

05:11:30:00

non existent. The sewers were overflowing, the gutters were full of urine and anything else that floated. It was all there and smelling to high heaven. Our commanding officer said, “No we can rough it but we can’t live in these conditions. It is unhygienic. We have got to be on call all

05:12:00:00

of the time and we have got a flying job to do so our men need their rest. So we are going to look for alternative accommodation.” Which he did find in the village of Vung Tau. We completely rented out a villa. It had plenty of rooms and we bunked two or three

05:12:30:00

to a room and that’s how we existed. We fed ourselves, we had our own little bar. And made our own way in the world. We had a sort of armoured type vehicle that we would drive to and form work with all of the troops on it. And that’s how we managed. See we were well paid over there, we got twenty-five cents a day

05:13:00:00

extra for being there. That was good pay, twenty-five cents a day, to what they are getting paid today. But we did it.
When you arrived at Vung Tau what had that air base there been used for before you arrived?
I think it was a military base run

05:13:30:00

by the French in years gone buy. And of course the French were beaten at Dien Bien Phu I think years before and had evacuated all of their military out of there. And then American came in and took over the bases and Americanised the whole thing.

05:14:00:00

And we joined in with them but the living accommodation on the base was atrocious. It was really bad. So we moved out and set up our own living quarters.
The villa where you were living what kind of building was that?
It was a concrete building, plenty of rooms.

05:14:30:00

Shower and toilet block and we hired people to do our washing and look after the toilets and showers.
So how many men were living in the villa?
All up I would guess about a hundred or so, you’re looking at something like thirty rooms to accommodate us all. That

05:15:00:00

started to get a little crowded after a while and so the officers hired another villa, and all of the officers moved into Villa Anna and we stayed at our original villa, the non commissioned officers and the airmen lived in that particular villa.
So what were the streets like around where you were living where your accommodation was?

05:15:30:00

Like an Asian town. They were narrow little streets because not many vehicles went on there apart from push bikes and rickshaws and little motorbikes, that’s all was running around the town. And little bars would pop

05:16:00:00

up on the beach. Somebody would start a little bar there with a grass type hooch [tent] and some seats around. Selling balmy beer which was thirty-three, the type of beer that they sold over there. You were better off drinking the beer than the water the water was so heavily chlorinated that it would almost make you sick to drink it. But we

05:16:30:00

managed.
The beer that you were drinking, was that local beer?
Local beer. It had been brewed and that was enough to kill a lot of the little bugs in there. So, not too many people got stomach problems. A lot of them got problems from one or two too many like anybody would, get a little bit crook

05:17:00:00

and throw up and have a headache but it wasn’t because of the water, it was because they had had just one too many.
What was Vung Tau like as a town?
It was pretty quiet and peaceful. As I said it was a holiday place. Who knows we might have entertained half of the North Vietnamese

05:17:30:00

army at some stage down there. I was never perturbed by it all. We would just go out and go to a bar and have a few drinks. But we tended to live by ourselves because we had our own bar and whenever we could we would fly in Australian beer or beer from Malaysia into our own little bar there.

05:18:00:00

And of course when the Americans got to hear about this we had a lot of visitors, they would come and join us. But that wasn’t bad.
Speaking to other Vietnam vets, Vung Tau was also a place for rest and recreation?
Yep it was their recreation.
So what kind of mood was there in the town where people would come for R and C [rest and convalescence] ?
Not bad. There was no animosity

05:18:30:00

from the South Vietnamese people towards us, I never encountered it. I got on pretty well with the whole lot of them but we never had many run-ins with anybody. I can’t speak for the Americans, some of them can be pretty abrasive at times but I got on pretty well with them too.

05:19:00:00

What was the relationship like between your squadron for example and the troops that would come into Vung Tau? Would you mix with troops that would come in form other places?
Well where would they be coming in from? Australian Army?
Yes.
Well the Australian Army and the American Army for that matter were always invited around to the villa to come and join us and have a few drinks. But it wasn’t

05:19:30:00

an ongoing holiday atmosphere for us. We only got one day off a week, that as Sunday, that was only half of the squadron, the other half of the squadron would have to work doing extra servicing on the aircraft. So it was pretty much you could say seven day a week job and so we had that to contend with. And even on my day off, I would get a day off

05:20:00:00

because I was air crew, I would still be given an extra task to drive the other people to and from the work base. So I was just getting a rest from the flying side of things but not from the work side. In between driving them there of a morning and picking them up in the afternoon I had time to have an extra

05:20:30:00

sleep or catch up on a few things.
What were the hours like that you were working in Vung Tau every day?
Seven until seven every day. But to be at work by seven I had to get up at six and finish at seven and by the time I was back it was another hour later, so pretty long days. Twelve to fourteen hours most days.

05:21:00:00

And what was the main role of the Caribou at this particular time?
Resupply the troops in field and medivac [medical evacuation] . Bring back wounded and as I said in there I carried the wounded out and I carried the troops out and brought the wounded back, body bags like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know if you have ever

05:21:30:00

had to tie down body bags. But that is burnt into my brain, the trauma of having to do that. I can still see it, I can still see as I put those straps across the body bags and tighten then down and the whole thing moving. And wondering to myself, “Are they dead in there or still alive?” You know you would start to think

05:22:00:00

rationally, “They have to be dead they wouldn’t be in a body bag if they weren’t dead”.
So how would the call come for you to go and collect wounded? Explain how that would happen.
Well we would start the day by flying to Saigon and then as a crew we would go across to a briefing the Americans in charge would give us a briefing and tell us exactly what our task was for the day.

05:22:30:00

And we were just part of a squadron doing a job, the first job of the day might have been to bring ammunition to somewhere or food to somewhere else. And while we were there to divert across to another area and pick up a couple of wounded soldiers and bring them back. Or go to another place

05:23:00:00

and pick up a couple of bodies and bring them back . The next trip could be to take a soldier’s coffin with his family from Saigon to almost up near the border to some little place. And we would have to put the coffin on, tie it down

05:23:30:00

the family would sit around it and then light candles and stick them on top of the coffin . The one thing that doesn’t go together with aeroplanes is lighting candles and what have you. So I was on edge about that because it is quite easy to start a fire in an aeroplane.
The families, what nationality was that?
Vietnamese.

05:24:00:00

And then when we would get to wherever we had to go we would offload the casket and the families would get off and they would have people waiting and it would go into the back of a truck and away they would go and that’s the last we would see of them. I remember bringing a Vietnamese soldier back from somewhere up north and

05:24:30:00

they brought him out to the back of the aircraft just before we left to come back to Saigon and he had been shot. The bullet when in his back near his kidney and come out near the front of him. And they brought him in and sat him on a seat. And he looked at me and

05:25:00:00

he knew that I was there but he just had this glassy stare to him. I though to myself, “Boy oh boy you would be hurting” and he sat there like this holding his stomach in all of the way to Saigon. And when we got to the other end one of his own, this is his own people said, “Get off the plane come down here.”

05:25:30:00

And that’s when I saw red because this guy couldn’t move he was, and I ordered this Vietnamese sergeant to get a stretcher for him because he couldn’t move. But he never said a word, he never whimpered, he could look around but he just had this stare about him, like as if he was in shock.

05:26:00:00

And that sort of got to me a little bit, how they treated their own. We wouldn’t think about doing that sort of thing to anyone but they didn’t seem to think it mattered all of that much. He was on the aeroplane and he was awake so he could get up and walk down the end. No.

05:26:30:00

I finally got them to get a stretcher and carry him off. They are the little things that stick in your memory the whole time.
Would you know what kind of scene you were flying into?
No that was a surprise when you got there.

05:27:00:00

How difficult was it to quickly adjust to whatever?
Well as I said you were always wary, always waiting for the unexpected. It wasn’t going to catch me by surprise I mightn’t be the sharpest tool on the bench but I wasn’t going to get a surprise so I was wary of that.

05:27:30:00

What were the most frightening moments?
Have you ever been shot at? It is not the most pleasant thing, but it is not the most scariest thing. The frightening, I don’t think I was ever frightened at any point while I was

05:28:00:00

over there. I mean really frightened where you are traumatised by it. I never got to that stage. It affected some people like that but it didn’t affect me that way.
Could you see the impact on other people?
Oh yeah I had one friend that committed suicide over it.

05:28:30:00

I have got a couple of friends that are not in a real good way right at the moment. That have never gotten over their journey through Vietnam.
When you were based there would you be able to notice in other people changes in them or?

05:29:00:00

Yes but I was never looking for changes in people so therefore it wasn’t a thing that would stand out. After a while somebody would say to you, “Have you noticed a change in so and so? How uptight he

05:29:30:00

is or how his mood has changed?” Then you would probably take notice. And see something there or totally dismiss it as imagination. But I was never astute enough to pick up on those things straight away, not unless it was so bloody obvious you couldn’t miss it. But I didn’t see anything like that.

05:30:00:00

What kind of support was there, when you were over there what kind of support could you provide each other?
In what do you say support?
As in emotional support it might be something as simple as joking?
That’s about all we would do. We would sit and joke about things.

05:30:30:00

There was never a time when somebody would come to you and confide in you that they had a problem. We were all young men to damn proud to cry and that’s the way it was. No one, very few people ever showed their true feelings. It was

05:31:00:00

always let’s joke about it, laugh about it or change the subject and get onto something that doesn’t relate to the war. I guess in a kind of way we were running away from it. Hiding it. Now ask me the question about when we came home, was there any support when we got home?

05:31:30:00

Nothing, you came back, you got off the plane and you disappeared into the rest of the public that was there. We weren’t even allowed to wear uniform, we snuck back into the country in civilian clothes and just mingled with the other civilians getting off the aeroplane, just fresh faced young people

05:32:00:00

arriving back in Australia from somewhere. When we left the country it was the same way, dressed in civilian clothes on board a commercial 707 [aircraft] flew out of the place. Not the sort of homecoming you would visualise but what happened in reality was, they just tried to hide us.

05:32:30:00

How did that make you feel at the time?
Bitter, very bitter. Deep down inside I think it was one of the things that I didn’t want to relate to Vietnam, to socialise with the people I had been there with. Wouldn’t go to funerals, wouldn’t go to the marches.

05:33:00:00

resisted it year after year. And its only since the Vietnam Veterans Association that we started, the Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans Association that we have started to become a family. And the bond is so strong

05:33:30:00

that its just growing from strength to strength every day. There is not one of the guys that I couldn’t ring and say, “I need your help now can you be here?” And they would be here right away. You only need to ring one person, he rings his half a dozen people and they ring their half a dozen people and before you know it you would have an army outside the door. That’s the way we are. Ands that’s growing

05:34:00:00

stronger and stronger. I imagine that the people coming back from Iraq will probably go through the same sort of trauma and drama. Some people will divorce themselves entirely of the whole thing to try and forget to get away from it. And then as time goes on they will drift back together and find that they have become stronger as a group.

05:34:30:00

When you went to Vietnam were you aware of the politics of how it had divided people?
Oh yes I was aware I had been briefed. How the divisions came about, people who had been there before us, the French and the Americans were ever helping out the North Vietnamese to start with. Things had changed over the years.

05:35:00:00

And then there became this big divide between the North and South, we were almost watching Korea again.
Did you have much knowledge of public opinion in Australia over Vietnam?
Oh yes.
What did you know of what people were saying about Vietnam and our involvement?
I knew that it was going on. We were getting reports.

05:35:30:00

What did you know of the general public’s opinion of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam?
Well I didn’t think much of the Australian public, it made me angry. Especially after the did finally recognise that we had been there and they put on a march in

05:36:00:00

Sydney and we had demonstrators jumping up and down in our faces throwing eggs and spitting on us and carrying on. It took a lot of self control because I think if the leaders had have yelled out, “The gloves are off.” I think there would be a lot of heads missing at the moment, that’s how angry everyone was.

05:36:30:00

Not angry with the government, it was angry at the people who were so damn ignorant of what was going on or what we had been through. We had been to hell and back and to have our own people treat us like that it was a bit much. But a lot of people just drifted away and changed, got out of uniform just became a

05:37:00:00

civilian and just walked away from it. a lot of angry people. And the other thing was, do they really understand what is going on there? Really understand? There was a little girl that used to ride a bicycle, this is another thing that sticks clearly in my mind. She used to ride a bicycle and she had some little bottles of soft drink, orange and lemonade.

05:37:30:00

And she had a little basket on the back of her bike and she used to ride around to the aircraft and we used to buy drinks off her and she would go down the line. And I am talking about 1964 now, this is before you talk about terrorism that you have got today. And

05:38:00:00

they thought they would get at us by booby trapping her little bike. And of course it went off and blew her to bits. Didn’t hurt any of the rest of us because she had moved on before this thing went off. And that made me angry inside. She was a lovely little kid. That’s just another one of those

05:38:30:00

things when you see the bastard side of terrorism. That’s what the people, the demonstrators didn’t understand was happening with the South Vietnamese people, how the North Vietnamese were infiltrating and getting to the South Vietnamese people who didn’t want them there in the first place.

05:39:00:00

In the end of course the South Vietnamese rolled over and accepted them in there and of course there was nothing we could do about that.
How wary did you have to be of civilians knowing that the North Vietnamese would infiltrate in that way?

05:39:30:00

Well I walked around with a loaded 45 [gun] on my hip all of the time, it wasn’t cocked all of the time but it wouldn’t have taken me long to cock it, but I had the 45 there all of the time.
What were you told to look out for?
The well first of all we were told not to walk around by ourselves, to walk around in groups. Not to congregate

05:40:00:00

in out of the way places like bars and stuff like that. Because that was invited danger. We were told to be wary at all times, suspect everybody and trust no one. And yep that’s about all. But not to become paranoid.

05:40:30:00

Now when you think about that, you’re trusting no one, being wary of everyone but not to become paranoid. You have got to cut a definite line there somewhere. There were times when it was quite easy to stick your neck out and get yourself into trouble over there, so you had to be careful

05:41:00:00

of how far you could go.
What do you mean by that?
Well there were certain areas where they said, “Don’t frequent these areas it could be dangerous.” Like telling a kid don’t touch that flame over there it could burn you. “Do they really don’t want us to go there because it is a problem area?

05:41:30:00

Or is there something they are not telling us?”
What kinds of areas?
Mainly girly bars and things like that.
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 06

06:00:30:00

Ken we were talking about warnings about no go areas and girly bars and what have you, what were you told about fraternisation with locals prior to arriving?
Well it was, a lot of places were off limits and that goes without saying, if something is off limits it is off limits. But it was never,

06:01:00:00

“You can’t associate or talk to that girl or go to the bar with that girl” That was never the instruction. It was just, it was the medical people would say to us, “Look you’re all young guys over here full of

06:01:30:00

testosterone, play it smart, don’t get caught out here. There are diseases, lots of things you can catch, you can put yourself in a lot of trouble by getting mixed up in some of these places so steer clear and stay away from them.” That to me was

06:02:00:00

clear enough. I didn’t need to take that any further. That meant that if I met somebody in a bar or one of the legit places that I could go to, sure I could talk to them. We didn’t talk about our operations or what we did. We just talked in general. We didn’t have to explain

06:02:30:00

to anybody there who we were, they all knew who you were. You didn’t have to lie or say, “I am not with the Defence Department.” because they all knew you were, you didn’t have to bring that subject up at all and so you talked about anything else but what you were doing. Carry on just a normal conversation.

06:03:00:00

But you wouldn’t let them invite you off to parties and stuff like that, that was inviting trouble because they could get you away to somewhere where you’re not supposed to be. But for the most part it was straightforward briefings I guess the same sort of briefing you would give your own kid about

06:03:30:00

knocking around in Kings Cross or something like that.
So what did these bars look like on the inside?
Dark dingy, smoke filled, regular bars. A couple of girls sitting over in the corner saying, “You buy me drink?”

06:04:00:00

So how would girls entertain men if you were instructed not to go off to other venues?
Really.
Practical question.
There were rooms provided on site.
What do you think the impact was of the war on the locals

06:04:30:00

around Vung Tau?
Well they were so far away from the centre of the war it had very little impact on them. Half of them didn’t even know there was a war going on. If you went further up north around Natrang, Danang area that was a different story

06:05:00:00

that was to the north of South Vietnam, but way down in Vung Tau which was the holiday area, the Mecca of holiday goers down there, a lot of them were, what the French called say le guerre, “Comme ci comme ca” “Who cares?}
I guess I was wondering if there were people obviously making good money out of the presence of the troops?

06:05:30:00

Of course there were. Always will any war there will be the sharp shooters and the quick buck merchants and they will always make a dollar.
Who were the people that ran the bars?
There were a lot of expatriate Frenchmen. There were some

06:06:00:00

Americans that ran bars. There was the odd Australians that ran bars. There was a lot of the local Vietnamese business people who ran bars. There wasn’t much to do around Vung Tau other than swim, surf, not that there was big surf, water ski, that’s what we did, we loved the water side of things,

06:06:30:00

sunbake on the beach and go to the bar. That’s about all of the entertainment there was. There was no football games to go to on Saturday afternoon. There was no baseball played. There was sporting activities were next to nothing so you had to make your own fun. Well we resurrected an old

06:07:00:00

speed boat and we used that to go water skiing and having fun around the beach. We were beach people and that’s how we entertained ourselves on our day off.
How did the beaches compare to what we’re used to in Australia?
Oh no comparison. A beach over there is just some sand, not what we have got here in Australia.

06:07:30:00

You mentioned Danang was that where that first Caribou was fired upon?
In that area.
So where were you flying from and where were you flying to?
Well I think we had either been to Natrang or Danang I can’t remember now and we had loaded up there and we were taking out some supplies to Aro which is out

06:08:00:00

further inland in the valley .And you would go there for a few days and start your operations, we would be under the control of the American commander there at the base. We would be tasked out of there and each day we had different tasks to perform. Flying every day but going somewhere different. Sometimes we would take troops, supplies, live animals was the other thing,

06:08:30:00

we used to drop cows, chicken, pigs, there was no refrigeration so we would take into one of these small outposts two pigs and they would keep them there until they wanted fresh meat and then they would slaughter one or two of the pigs. Same with the cow we did that.

06:09:00:00

One instance I had a cow on board and it was in a box with a parachute on it. I had to drop a live cow to this place. And the other thing was, when you dropped to these outposts you had to make sure you kept it as close as you could to the compound because anything that strayed into the

06:09:30:00

trees was a risk to those that had to go and collect it because the enemy could set up an ambush around that supply. And then they would pick off those that came to collect it. If they were smart enough and said, “No we will just forget that one, leave it go.” And the enemy would then pick up those supplies and take them with them to use

06:10:00:00

them back against the South Vietnamese and American troops. The cow we dropped this day, I put it as close as I could to the compound and then up came this voice over the radio and it was this smart arsed American who said, “You couldn’t have put it closer to the cookhouse? Because we had to walk over and get this cow.” Which meant twenty or thirty yards.

06:10:30:00

So we had another one to drop and I had to go back and load up, we were only taking them one at a time, and he said, “As close as I could possibly get it to the barbeque or stove.” So we came in on this drop, this is the second cow and the cow is frantic and it starts kicking at the box before we released it out of the back and it had actually kicked

06:11:00:00

the back out of the box just as it departed the aircraft and we were watching this clown and the cow backed out of the box on the way down and now it is free falling. The box had the parachute on it and the cow has kicked itself out of the box and it is falling to earth. And straight through their mess roof

06:11:30:00

would you believe and smashed the thing to pieces. And he came back and said, “You’re a smart arse I said close to the stove not on the stove.”
Do you think they would have still gotten some steaks out of it?
Very well pounded steaks I would imagine. But we have had chickens, carried baskets of chickens and chickens get loose and it is very hard

06:12:00:00

to control them and they go out the back door, they see the big open back door and they tear straight for that and they get hit with a hundred and fifty knot wind and it plucks every feather off them and they spiral earthwards the feathers fly off them. Getting hit with that much slipstream they just tear themselves to pieces really.
So how would the livestock be secured in the aircraft?

06:12:30:00

With great difficulty. But they were in a box, the box is built around the cow and it is on rollers and pushed in and we secure the box down and the cow is upright but it really wants to get out of that box, so it kicks and kicks until it will kick the back out of the box if the box isn’t put together all

06:13:00:00

that strongly. If they are a bit lax in the way in which they nail the box together. And it is an open sided box, you can see the cow. Some of them get frantic and kick, I have seen them kick its way out of the box in the aircraft without going out and then go frantic inside the aircraft and want to tear the aircraft up. Have you ever had a cow running up and down

06:13:30:00

the inside of an aeroplane? That’s a surprise and a half I can assure you.
Given that you said that the actually body of the Caribou is fragile?
Fragile yeah and they pound and kick and carry on. So you, they have usually got rings through the nose, if you can get a tie down ring into the nose, hook it onto there and hook it onto a tie down

06:14:00:00

in the floor and ratchet it down. It doesn’t take much to pull the cow down, you can finally get it down there but this cow is wild with fear because it is in an unfamiliar environment and the eyes are as big as anything and they are really going mad. Sometimes it is very hard to get that strap through the ring in their nose,

06:14:30:00

but you have got to try until you get it.
And so up around the Danang region what was the activity, what was happening in the war and particularly around the time you were fired upon?
Well that’s where the North Vietnamese were making their way down to those points

06:15:00:00

and then infiltrating into the small towns and villages of the South Vietnamese people that were there.
So that day that you were unloading the barbed wire was that a parachute drop or?
No that was a landed drop. They had these little remote areas that they would call compounds and they had maybe two Americans and half a dozen South Vietnamese

06:15:30:00

troops there to protect that area.
So how would you determine whether it was a parachute drop or a landing?
We didn’t determine that.
Well how would it be decided?
That would be decided by the area command that wanted the supplies out in there and then we would be briefed and told you can land this one in or you have to drop this one in.

06:16:00:00

That was all predetermined before we left. We would always rig prior to leaving , you wouldn’t rig on the way there. You wouldn’t suddenly say, “We will run this into a supply drop and drop it in by parachute.” It didn’t happen that way, it was predetermined before you loaded the aeroplane in the first place.
Are you aware of what situations on the ground might make it a drop or a land?

06:16:30:00

No. Not really. I mean the situation could change form minute to minute there, it wouldn’t matter what you were briefed, it took you an hour to get to some of these places from where you started and a lot can happen in an hour. You can go from secure to overrun. We were in contact with the places we were going to be radio,

06:17:00:00

the radio network was pretty good. And if it got any way chancy at all we were told to abort and turn or to continue on.
What sort of cover did you have on the ground and in the aircraft if it was a landing?
What do you mean cover? Fire power? None. In the aircraft,

06:17:30:00

apart from the 45 I was carrying and each of us had a rifle to protect ourselves, that was laying underneath a seat somewhere that you would have to dig out and arm and protect yourself. But it never came to that. We were fortunate we didn’t have to do and running battles with anyone.

06:18:00:00

Given that most people are only used to taking off and landing in commercial aircraft and civilian airports and so on. Can you sort of try and paint a picture for us of what it is like of what it is like to land and take off in an aircraft in a war zone in a compound like that? What it looks like? And how quickly the plane takes off and lands?

06:18:30:00

Well it is up to the captain to brief the crew as to what's happening. I wish you could watch a video I would put on a video and show you exactly, because I have taken all of that on a DVD, I have got all of that. And give you a good perspective of what it is like inside and outside of the aeroplane. The captain will brief you and he will say something like, “We have got

06:19:00:00

a couple of hot spots on the over run of the takeoff area. We have got to get out of here quickly so we will take off using fifteen flap, keep the aircraft low until we have reached a high speed and then pull it up vertically on climb and spiral away as quickly as we can to avoid ground fire.”

06:19:30:00

or we may be coming into land so , “We are going to spiral down and go in and do a short field landing off this. It could get a bit bumpy.” Tighten your strap etcetera. So all of this would be briefed beforehand, what you were going to do and how you were going to take off. If you were taking off out of Saigon or Bien Hoa

06:20:00:00

where there was a nice long runway or something, you would just do a normal airline take off and climb away.
Can you recall an incident a take off or landing that was bumpier or slightly hairier?
Oh thousands of those. God they were an every day occurrence. Landing wasn’t a landing, it was an arrival, many a time that’s happened.

06:20:30:00

Its one of those quick assessments of how you are going to get in or out of the place you can brief until you’re blue in the face and put a plan together in your head but there are circumstances which will change that each and every time. You have to pick up on those changes straight

06:21:00:00

away and have an alternate plan in your mind and even that can change, so you have got to be on your toes.
What were the landing strips like? What could they be like? If you could tell me what some of the worst ones were?
Have you ever been on a crop duster strip?
I have seen them on television but no.
Little tiny cleared out spaces of ground.

06:21:30:00

up the side of a hill or down in a valley, between tress or, that’s quite often you had to go into places like those.
So the landing strip might not even be flat?
Oh no. Go to New Guinea and see some of the strips up there they are on the side of a hill like that [indicates] .

06:22:00:00

So what can you tell me then about the pilots flying in and out of these conditions?
The pilots were probably some of the best pilots I have ever flown with, ever. Some of the Caribou pilots I am talking about, and some of those went on to fly on C130s because of the experience they had. They were absolutely top notch. There is not one pilot that I have ever flown with in the air

06:22:30:00

force that I have been nervous with. Not one. I have really really got a lot of faith in RAAF trained pilots, especially in the transport world. I guess there are a lot of fighter pilots out there that are equally as good, but I have never had the chance to fly with them. But the transport pilots are the best in the world bar none.

06:23:00:00

What was them how did the terrain differ form what you could see in the north, and when I say north I mean further north in South Vietnam to Vung Tau?
Well it got a little hillier towards the top end of Vietnam and it got very thick jungle terrain over towards the border and Vung Tau, down where we

06:23:30:00

were it is delta, all flat, rice paddies everywhere, mile after mile of rice paddies. And if you had an engine failure between Saigon and Vung Tau you were going to go down in a rice paddy. So it would have been a soft but a wet landing.
What sort of emergency and crash procedures were there?

06:24:00:00

Crash procedures, tie yourself in and then tighten them down again, head between your knees and what do they say? “Kiss your behind goodbye.” I don’t know it’s, you got through all of your normal emergency procedures and training. You’re at the mercy of the captain

06:24:30:00

as to how well he is going to put it down. I have had a few emergency landings, but a twin engine aeroplane, it is very unlikely you’re ever going to lose two engines. You will always get in on one engine with these aircraft. We never had undercarriage failures where the undercarriage wouldn’t come down properly.

06:25:00:00

It always seemed to come down, if not by the hydraulics we could always pump it down. I would have to do that and if that failed there were several other means of getting the undercarriage down. Shake it down and a few manoeuvres to get it to unlock and come down. Mechanical overrides. Some of the

06:25:30:00

emergencies you wouldn’t want the undercarriage down, you would want it up to belly it in along the ground rather than having undercarriage sticking down there. Especially if you were going into a rice paddy, you wouldn’t want your undercarriage down would you?
So what was the nature of some of the emergency landings you did?
Well prop [propeller] failure, engine failure, that’s about it

06:26:00:00

mainly. And the engine failure could be anything from low oil pressure to no oil pressure to fuel pump failure, boost pump failure, it can just go on. Magneto failure. You have got back up systems to everything and you have got to be very

06:26:30:00

unlucky to lose two systems but it has happened, rarely.
Were there other occasions after that incident near Darnang where you were fired upon?
Oh every other day after that, you would hear the crack and know you were being shot at.
How easily could the bullets penetrate the aircraft?

06:27:00:00

The aeroplane is made out of thin aluminium, I mean if you had a pen knife in your hand and went like that [indicates] you would punch a hole it in. that’s only the skin of the aeroplane. The frame inside is quite solid, that’s only the skin of the aeroplane. But the bullet

06:27:30:00

can just slice through it.
So what is the skin designed to be so thin?
For lightness - you don’t want excess weight there.
Was there much flying at night time?
Yes on the flare missions we did night flying.

06:28:00:00

We talked briefly before lunch about those flare missions, came I just ask you again to explain what he purpose of those flare missions were?
It was to light up the battle area. So that the troops could see the enemy or where the fire was coming from, to pinpoint targets for the

06:28:30:00

fighter aircraft to come in and strafe or drop their ordinance.
And so what sort of troops were those flare missions in support of? Were they South Vietnamese or?
South Vietnamese and Americans.
So what were your impressions of the South Vietnamese and their military abilities?

06:29:00:00

They were nice people, I didn’t mind the people I thought they were dreadfully under trained at times. They didn’t seem to understand too much about their role, this was my impression .They gave up pretty

06:29:30:00

quickly, when the situation became a little bit desperate they would walk away form it, where as we had a tendency to, they seemed reluctant to have that bit of go in them.
How did that reflect itself in say their day to day experience that you had with them?
In what

06:30:00:00

respect as soldiers? As I said they were nice people You couldn’t fault them but if they thought the situation was a bit too sticky they wouldn’t push it. I am not saying they would run away from it they just wouldn’t push it that little bit extra to win. They

06:30:30:00

would let things slide and hold off for another day where we have a tendency to push on. Get the job done.
What sort of transport, I know you mentioned you carried the injured and some who had been killed, some south Vietnamese, what about deployment of paratroops,

06:31:00:00

what sort of transport was there of them?
We were carrying Vietnamese parachutists out to various locations and dropping them out. Our own jump masters would give the commands and they would respond and away they would go. They were trained parachutists and out they went.

06:31:30:00

And who was co-ordinating their activity?
I think that was a joint co-ordination between the American military and the South Vietnamese military there was a joint co-operation there.
So your transport squadron how did the co-operation work with the Americans?
We were under the Americans, We were part of the 315th Tactical Air Commando unit, we did what

06:32:00:00

they said we weren’t under our own control, we were under the American control.
So what sort of differences or similarities were there in the way that American division worked and your experiences in the air force?
Well I didn’t fly with any of their operational flights on any of their operations

06:32:30:00

so I can’t give you a direct comparison. All I can tell you is that our orders came from the Americans and we did exactly what they wanted us to. When I say we I mean like our commanding officer. If he thought they were asking a little too much he would

06:33:00:00

object strongly and take them to task on that and say, “Look we think this is wrong, we thing this is a bit over the top. Revise it or give us another plan.” And mostly they would reconsider it and give us another plan. But we lifted tonnage far in excess of what the Americans ever lifted in

06:33:30:00

their Caribous and the Americans were totally amazed with what we had lifted and what we had done with our half a dozen aeroplanes. We would outrun them by miles with movement of troops and equipment and these were the Americans asking us. We had Americans saying to us, there was two aeroplanes to choose from the American one

06:34:00:00

and us and they would say, “No we will go with the Aussies.” We had that time and time again travel with us rather than travel with our own people. We could always get through where as some of them had a little difficulty in doing that.
Why do you think that was?
Maybe we have got more go. I don’t know.

06:34:30:00

Looking back what are your impressions of the Americans and how they conducted themselves in Vietnam?
Well look I think they did a fair enough job. Maybe they let

06:35:00:00

things get out of hand towards the end and that’s why the North Vietnamese got in where they did. But as for soldiers they’re as tough and as brave as anybody. They’re well trained, well equipped, their equipment is superb compared to ours. That leans itself to say,

06:35:30:00

“Well why did we do so well with what we had when they were so much better equipped?” Maybe we trained a little better to be able to utilise what we have got than they are. Look at Iraq for instance, our troops over there are few in number yet we have not had one casualty over there yet because we are so much more cautious than the Americans.

06:36:00:00

So much better trained this is my opinion, I think we are so much better trained for the situation than the American troops are. Same in Vietnam.
Because you mentioned earlier there were those communication errors with the barbed wire and I am just wondering what your theory is about a country with such military might how they can make those sorts of?

06:36:30:00

Errors? Well maybe they don’t put enough importance on the little things like detail. That’s the only way it can happen. Some clerk doesn’t bother to double check and the load gets confused and goes to the wrong place,

06:37:00:00

maybe.
You said that you had lots of funny stories and you liked to remember or recount those, can you think of any other funny stories to tell us?
Look there is lots of them and when we’re sitting around and I relate the story

06:37:30:00

about dropping the cow so close to the mess hall that it destroys the mess hall and that will remind somebody else and he will remember a story, That remind me about a story and he will recount that story. It is like a disease snowballs from there and there is a little bit of one-upness, “Listen I have got a better

06:38:00:00

story,” and so it goes. And for me to sit here now and try to relate all of those other stories I can’t . But somewhere along the line something will trigger in me and I will remember one. Remember I am getting a little older now, it was forty years ago.
How were you able to follow the progress of what was happening in the war in a general sense?

06:38:30:00

Monday morning briefing was the only way we kept up and that briefing came through the flight commanders and we would be briefed and brought up to date with what was happening in various parts of the country. And they would get their briefings from senior American officers. That was passed down.

06:39:00:00

Now how much, if you went right back to the beginning to find out the true facts, I never found out what that was, I never found out how many people had embellished things along the way until finally I got my briefing, embellished or exaggerated the events or achievements. I wasn’t privy to any of that.

06:39:30:00

So what impression did you form about how successful the Australian and American troops at the time you were there, how successful they were, can you remember what you thought at the time about just how the war was going?
Well remember I was there in the very early stages,

06:40:00:00

we were travelling pretty well and the every briefing we would get was a pretty positive one and we had great delight in hearing that we had delivered X amount of equipment and the Americans had only delivered half that much, due to their equipment being unserviceable or

06:40:30:00

for some other reason. So you know, we got our kit off from being so much better than the Americans and what have you, you lived on that .there weren’t too many failures on our side, because of the

06:41:00:00

I don’t know what it was whether it was the fact of we will get it done regardless attitude. We had very few people who were, “Oh what the hell put it off until tomorrow”. There was very little of that we seemed to get in and get it done as was recorded at the time. Apart from that no I

06:41:30:00

I can’t answer the question any other way.
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 07

07:00:30:00

Ken you mentioned there was a CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] man at where you were based at one stage can you explain what that story was?
He used to fly this little Dornier aircraft and it was parked at Danang and we would see him standing there early in the morning when we would arrive down at the aircraft. So I used to stir him up by going across

07:01:00:00

and trying to talk to him. He was a real Maxwell Smart [television comedy about a spy] with his little leather coat on and his briefcase. And I would walk around one side of the aeroplane and say, “G’day how you going? Where are you off to today?” and he would ignore me and walk around the other side of the aeroplane and I would follow and say, “Did you say where you were going?” or “What are you carrying?” or “What part pf the organization do you fit into?” and he would walk back around the other side of the aeroplane. Totally ignored me, would not talk to me at all, he

07:01:30:00

was obviously Air America, CIA or something. What he was doing there I couldn’t say.
Did you have much knowledge of what kind of intelligence gathering was going on?
No not really but I knew somebody was getting intelligence from somewhere and reporting back. But I didn’t know that these guys were over from Laos, because we all knew that they were working in Laos

07:02:00:00

but certainly didn’t know that they were in Vietnam.
When you were in Vung Tau you mentioned that you were responsible for your own food? What kind of food was it that you ate?
Well I have still got a love for Vietnamese bread. The French really taught the Vietnamese how to bake bread and so I lived on baked bread

07:02:30:00

and bananas. I would go and buy some Vietnamese rolls slice them, stick a banana in the centre of it and eat that. I couldn’t eat the American food, that was dreadful, I couldn’t eat the local food and so I ended up pinching a whole truckload of sea rations, tins of rations that were issued to the soldiers, and they were better meals then what you were being served up in

07:03:00:00

the mess. Of course when you moved off the base we were responsible for our own meals, we had to feed ourselves and so we had to make do. Well there was this truckload of food there and I thought, “Well we need some at the villa.” So I pinched the truckload and took it back and put it in my room and issued it out from there.
What was in the sea rations?
Everything was sealed in little tins.

07:03:30:00

There would be little tins of stew, you could heat that up and there was a little, you would get those little burners and stick a tin on that and heat it up that way. And then you would have another small tin with peaches in it. another small tin with a little bread roll, the bread roll wasn’t that good you would buy Vietnamese bread. There was three pieces of toilet paper,

07:04:00:00

two cigarettes and two matches, that was in the rations.
What was the American food like on base?
Have you ever eaten etherised eggs? Eggs so heavily etherised to be able to keep that it almost made you sick to eat them. There was

07:04:30:00

very little refrigeration there when we first went there and these eggs were dreadful. The steak was like boot leather. The potatoes were just mashed up sloppy mess in this container and a lot of was reconstituted potato, add water and

07:05:00:00

instant mashed potato, once again tasted dreadful and we decided to feed ourselves.
Where would you go to buy food?
You could buy food at the local shops. You could buy vegetables or fruit or bread, that sort of thing. You didn’t go in for much tinned stuff there because you didn’t know where it came from or how well it

07:05:30:00

was tinned, so we used to just buy the fresh stuff and eat that. Everyone lost weight over there, there was no one putting on weight I can assure you. My weight while I was over there was sixty-nine kilos, I was as skinny as a runt. And people that went over there that were a little overweight certainly got down to correct weight pretty quickly.

07:06:00:00

What kind of currency was being used when you were buying food?
Script on the base, you were paid in American dollars which was then changed into military scrip [military currency] and you could use that or change that for Vietnamese currency. And every now and then they would pull a raid and

07:06:30:00

in the middle of the night change the scrip. So if you got caught with this scrip or any of the shopkeepers did they wouldn’t have a chance of changing it to American dollars.
So how did the system of scrip work?
Well it was a military currency, one for one. You would take a dollar in and get one American military scrip dollar to be used on the base,

07:07:00:00

it wasn’t supposed to be used off the base but the Vietnamese have ways and means and a lot of times you could change it in town for better than a dollar, a dollar fifty or two dollars.
How would they then change it back?
Well they had ways and means but if they ever got caught out they got caught out big time.
Do you know what the penalty was for?
Well the penalty was they would lose all of their money,

07:07:30:00

they would lose all of their scrip. It was only for military personnel and there was a cut off time.
Was there much black market going on?
In town? Lots of it all over the place.
What kind of stuff would be traded?
Mainly alcohol and cigarettes.

07:08:00:00

How would you know where to go to get a good deal in town?
It doesn’t take long for the word to get around where the best deals are. A lot of the bars were travelling that way.
You mentioned earlier when we were looking at the film Agent Orange I just want to talk about what kind of contact you had with chemicals in Vietnam?
Carrying forty-four gallon drums of insecticide, a lot of the drums weren’t all that well sealed and

07:08:30:00

they were leaking at the tops. I was covered in it of a daytime, my flying suit, my gloves. Whenever you had to load it or unload it by hand you were always came in contact with this stuff. It was used to kill off the foliage of the jungles so the enemy couldn’t set up traps and

07:09:00:00

ambushes in the jungle.
So where would you be transporting the drums to?
Anywhere and everywhere. Mainly to where the ground forces were so that the aircraft could come in and fill up with this stuff and go out and spray the various jungle areas.
Do you know how they distributed the insecticides, how they sprayed it?

07:09:30:00

No, my task was just to get it down after that it was up to them.
Did you have any thoughts at that time about what you were carrying?
Didn’t even know what it was, to us it was just weed killer that’s all it was. The dangers of it was never mentioned.
Do you have thoughts on that now?
Oh yes having lost quite a few friends and acquaintances to

07:10:00:00

cancer I am convinced that Agent Orange played a part, or the insecticides we were carrying played a part in that.
Was there much discussion or much use that you saw of napalm [jellied petrol used in bombs] ?
Now where I was, no.

07:10:30:00

I did have occasion to see one little episode with napalm and that was one night we were doing flare missions and we were getting tracer up at us from out side the fort and inside the fort. These forts were little secure areas that the South Vietnamese had.

07:11:00:00

obviously the fire that was coming up form outside the fort was from the North Vietnamese and the stuff from inside was South Vietnamese, now we had two lots shooting at us and I can’t for the love of me figure out what had happened there unless the fort had been overrun by the enemy. And we were then told to abort our mission

07:11:30:00

of dropping the flares where we were doing, fly south to north against these positions to drop these two flares which ended up one either side of the target area. We dropped that and were then told to climb to four thousand feet. And head for home, which we did. And we dropped these two flares and climbed off and just circled there and in came these

07:12:00:00

two fighters between the two flares that we had just dropped and next thing the whole place had disappeared in a white flame. They had dropped napalm. These were sky raiders flown by the South Vietnamese. That’s the only time I saw napalm dropped.
What did it look like from the air?
From the air it looked

07:12:30:00

like a long trial of white smoke and fire. That’s all it is, it happens so quickly. It is liquefied petroleum that just it partially solidified actually and it just ignites and spreads across the whole countryside in the direction form which it was dropped.

07:13:00:00

If you’re coming in from the south and drop it the flame will come from the south and go all the way to the north in a long line.
Could you see what impact it had on the ground?
No all we saw was the flash and we got out of there.
Did you have much knowledge about how the war was impacting on civilians while you were there, I mean did you hear any stories of what was going on?

07:13:30:00

No not really I couldn’t gauge that aspect of the war. I don’t know if it was a case of not being interested or not knowing enough about it to take it on board. I just let it go at that.
What was the communication like with the South Vietnamese in terms of language barriers and like that?

07:14:00:00

Well we tried very hard to do the right thing and learn the phrases, like, “”How much? “ “Do you have beer?” “Thankyou.” “I will have one of those.” “Yes.” “No” count to five, they were the phrases.

07:14:30:00

Vietnamese was not an easy language to learn.
Was there much English spoken amongst them?
Many of the Vietnamese I came in contact with could speak English and could speak French. That made it easier for me because I didn’t have to learn too many phrases in Vietnamese.

07:15:00:00

That’s how we communicated, or by the good old point method.
Did you have South Vietnamese working with you on the aircraft?
No we didn’t have any South Vietnamese people working on it.
We saw on the film you showed

07:15:30:00

that there was insignias on the planes or names, could you explain what that was?
That was a little case of tagging each other aeroplane and you would each have your own symbol and mine was the bunny with the [Playboy] Bunny Club and that was tagged onto mine and if I had the

07:16:00:00

opportunity to tag an American aircraft I would put a bunny onto theirs and they would know who did it. Each and everyone had a different tag. As you noticed my aircraft there had different tags all over it, it had been hit that many times with the little spray can and the stencil, it had one of everything on it.
How would people do it was the trick not to be seen or?

07:16:30:00

Oh no you couldn’t get seen. They would do it in the dead of night or get the guard to do it, or someone. There were ways and means of getting down there onto the flight line and tagging, but you wouldn’t want to get caught down on the flight line at night, you could possibly end up getting shot.

07:17:00:00

Did you tag other peoples planes?
Oh yeah.
So what would you do?
Just put it near the door handle or right on the nose of the aeroplane, spray a little bunny and they knew they were tagged, it was a game.
Was there a sense you were trying to get as many planes as you could?
Oh one upmanship yes, it was going on all of the time. It is a bit like graffiti today that’s all

07:17:30:00

it was, graffiti.
We have spoken to people on flights who had lucky charms, did you have anything like that that you took with you or did other people?
Some people did they wore their dog tags [identification tags] , some would have a little cross or St Christopher’s medal. Something.

07:18:00:00

Someone would give them something and they would think that’s cute and keep it as a good luck charm. Superstition, that’s all it was. I didn’t have anything.
Were you in any way superstitious in terms of the routine you did?
No not really, do you mean putting my right boot on before I put my left boot on? No I didn’t have any.

07:18:30:00

I am just trying to get an idea of the social interaction in Vietnam which is at war and you’re flying into places where you don’t know where you are heading, what kind of social things were done to ease the tension, if you were heading off into these war zones?

07:19:00:00

From the crew point of view? Well we would try and stick together as much as we possible could. Because you were flying with senior officers you couldn’t go into their mess but they could come into yours. So they would step down to the next mess down and we would go into the mess and have a few beers and talk about the day's work. Or sometimes that

07:19:30:00

wasn’t possible so one of the officers would go in and buy a few cans or bottles of beer and you would go back to your barracks and everyone would sit in there and talk about it and have a few drinks. But that was about the only social thing you could do, either in the mess or back in your room.
When you were up in the air were you able to talk or was it too noisy?

07:20:00:00

Oh no you had a helmet on with three way communication ,you could talk to each other all of the time.
What sort of things were being spoken of when you were heading towards a target or doing a drop?
You would tell jokes, talk to each other. I remember once I said to the captain whose name was Don Pollack and I

07:20:30:00

yelled out over the mic [microphone] , “Don what does blood smell like?” because we had had ground fire, you could hear the crack, crack. “Don what does blood smell like?” And there was a silence and he said, “Shit, have you been wounded?” and I said, “Well if that’s the case yes.” And he thought about that for a while and then burst into laughter, he realised what he had said.

07:21:00:00

Was there time for much joking when you actually did drops?
No when you were on target for a drop or something like that it was very serious stuff. The only time you got to talk to each other was on the way to the target or when you left and where on the way home. You would talk about things, or repeat some joke

07:21:30:00

that you had heard and everyone would have a good laugh at that. Someone would have some witty saying on the radio talking to the ground or talking to other aircraft, yeah there was a bit of chit chat going on.
What kind of navigational aides did you have to get to that point where you had to do the drop?
It was mainly dead reckoning [type of navigation] .

07:22:00:00

The co-pilot who worked as a navigator he would plot it all out on his charts and you would get there by time and speed method. And then when you got close to the area you would be able to talk to the ground and they would then

07:22:30:00

say, “Yes, I have got your contact to the east” west or north, wherever you might be from them and they could give you directions in onto the drop zone.
What was visibility like?
Well visibility at times could get down to very rough clouded in stuff. We didn’t take any risks with that.

07:23:00:00

We didn’t have radar, we couldn’t see through it so you would have to wait until you became visual before you could do a drop or make an approach for landing.
Were there times when that had to be aborted?
Oh yeah there were times when we had to go back because we couldn’t get into a place.
What impact would that have on operations?

07:23:30:00

Well it tended to put operations or tasks behind because of weather. There was no point in risking, you could easily lose an aeroplane or a crew by pushing things too far. The captains of the aircraft had the final say on whether we should go in. If it was a little doubtful there would be a discussion,

07:24:00:00

majority rules and we would head off out of there and back to where we started from.
When you were sitting in the Caribou, where were you sitting and what was your role heading out?
Well I used to be between the two pilots and I would monitor flight instruments, there is a window either side and I would keep my eyes on both engines, make sure we weren’t

07:24:30:00

trailing smoke oil or anything else, that was one function I had. The other function was to make sure that everything in the cargo department was secured, and make sure all of the doors were closed and locked and people were seated and strapped in. on landing when we would shut down I

07:25:00:00

would then open up the aircraft, get rid of all of the straps and things, get the load out. If we had something to load it on or supervise the unloading of the aircraft because there was usually a lot of army personnel around to do that sort of thing. There were times when there was nobody around and there was just the three of us the aircraft crew to load or unload the aeroplane.

07:25:30:00

That was a little dramatic at times when you have got to try and unload tonnes of equipment without any aides and there is only three of you. But we managed we got it all done.
How difficult was it to secure the load in a Caribou?
Oh the floor had a total grid pattern with twenty inches apart was a tie down point and we had plenty of straps, five

07:26:00:00

thousand pound and ten thousand pound chains to secure the load. Mostly the load was secured to the platform prior to it being put on the aircraft, it was only a matter of securing the platform in the aeroplane.
And how many troops could you take?
We could carry thirty troops.
Was it common that you would have a load and you would have troops as well?

07:26:30:00

Yeah we could have half troops half load, three part troops and a small back up for them, there was many combinations to fill the aircraft.
I just want to go back to the villa where you were living in Vung Tau, I was wondering if you could explain what that villa looked like in terms of style?

07:27:00:00

The villa was a villa. Imagine a Spanish courtyard with an L shape building around two storeys high and a series of large rooms, I think possibly top and bottom there was thirty or forty rooms, two or three people to a room.

07:27:30:00

adequate to hold just about everybody that we had there at the time in Vung Tau.
Were you near the beach?
Right on what was called front beach. And laying around on the sand there were several old rotten Asian type canoes

07:28:00:00

and boats which we lovingly called the Vung Tau Yacht Club. Half sinking in the water. They just sat there on the beach ,we managed to get a hold of a speedboat and we got that going and put it in the water there at front beach and many an afternoon we would get out there and water ski around and around. We had great fun

07:28:30:00

on that. Australians are beach lovers and love to swim and love water sports. And that’s how we entertained ourselves.
Where did you get the water skis from?
I am not sure, somebody got a hold of a set of water skis from somewhere and I had no idea where. They could have been stolen from anywhere or bought or borrowed

07:29:00:00

and never brought back. I wouldn’t have a clue.
Did you ever go home at all for R & R [Rest and Recreation] ?
Never had any R & R home.
Did you leave Vietnam for R & R?
No I stayed there the whole time.
What sort of news would you be getting from home?
About the only news would be letters.

07:29:30:00

The odd paper, when the C130 [aircraft] came in and you could pinch the paper that the flight engineer or load master carried to read on the way, if you could mange to pinch his paper or any news that he had that’s about all we had.
And what news would you get in the letters?
Just what's going on at home. All low key stuff. “I miss you

07:30:00:00

sweetheart, when are you coming home? The kids are fine, everybody else is fine, how are you going?” You know the general type of thing you get in a letter.
Who were you writing letters to at that time?
Well to my parents, I would write to my parents and also my wife.

07:30:30:00

She was back here, we had only not long been married and I was over there. That’s it.
How difficult was it to be away from your wife?
Well I was a serviceman and I took on board that part of being a serviceman, I accepted that as that there were going to be times when I was going to be away I accepted

07:31:00:00

that there was probably going to be times that I would have to go to war if we were going to go to war. I just accepted it and that was part of life then.
Did you have kids then?
Yep, my eldest boy Brand, that one over there.
How old was he at that time?
I think two.

07:31:30:00

And so your family, your wife and son, how was it for her having you in Vietnam at that time? Did she how did she find that?
I don’t really know.

07:32:00:00

She wouldn’t indicate to me one way or the other whether she liked it or she didn’t like it. It wasn’t long after I got back that we got divorced so that might sort of give you an idea there of how that marriage went. I didn’t marry again for years after that.

07:32:30:00

Of course I am married now. As soon as I got back I got posted to Point Cook and I spent five years in Point Cook. And then finally I got posted back to flying again and I met Lorraine my present wife. That was in 1972.
We have spoken to people about Vietnam and its impact on relationships and so forth, did you feel that

07:33:00:00

your war experience had had an impact on your marriage?
I don’t know, that’s hard to say, it didn’t help but I really can’t say.
How much news were you

07:33:30:00

getting in Vietnam about how the war was being received back home?
Only as I said the only time you would get any news would be when you talked to one of the C130 crews or got a hold of a paper they brought up, something like that. There wasn’t all that much news coming in.

07:34:00:00

I know it was early in the war in Vietnam at that time, was there any sense that there was opposition to Australia’s involvement?
No that came later. That came probably around 1966, 1967. That’s when you started to see the demonstrations and what have you. When I was there it was 1964 to 1965

07:34:30:00

in fact I was one of the first ones in and things changed over the next couple of years.
When you left Vietnam and you were back in Australia and you saw the media coverage of those protests what were your feelings about that?
Angry.

07:35:00:00

That’s all I can say I got angry.
In what way were you angry at those protestors, what did you think they didn’t know about?
Because they branded me a “baby killer” and I had never fired a shot in anger, I had been shot at but I had never fired a shot back,

07:35:30:00

I had never dropped a bomb, I never dropped napalm. The only thing I ever did was carried supplies in and troops in and brought the dead out that’s all I ever did.
Did you have any direct contact with protestors, were you ever targeted personally when you came home?
No.

07:36:00:00

But there were times when we were told not to wear uniform, to wear civilian clothes. Not advertise the fact that you were in the defence force. That pained me because I loved my service life, I really did and I was a true serviceman so that got under my skin a little bit.

07:36:30:00

Was there any chance of your time in Vietnam being extended or were you there for a set length of time?
I was there for a set length of time with a change over. If I could have extended, well yes when I came back I could have quite easily gone back again but at that time I was trying to salvage a

07:37:00:00

marriage too. And so I sat down and talked to my CO about that and he said, “Why don’t you take a break? There is a posting at Point Cook get right away think about it and then in a few years time apply to come back.” And that’s exactly what I did.
Did you apply to go back to Vietnam later?

07:37:30:00

No I would have. I applied to come back to flying and I got pasted back to flying in 1972. Now it was all over. I arrived in in January of 1972 and they were pulling out in January of 1972.
How did you feel about leaving Vietnam in 1965?
Glad to be getting out of there, glad to be

07:38:00:00

getting home. I had done my job and it was time for somebody else to take over the reins.
You had mentioned earlier about being in charge of carrying out body bags from the injured? How much of an impact did that have on you?
To the point where I couldn’t go to funerals.

07:38:30:00

When people would tell em that somebody was sick in hospital I tried to avoid the whole issue by, “I don’t want to know about it”, and not attending reunions or Anzac marches, I avoided them like the plague for year after year.

07:39:00:00

And then slowly I guess I came around to seeing it there way and got talked into attending one. I said, “Yes I will go along for a look see but won’t be involved”, but when I got there I got involved and it went from there. I think that was one of the things that got me over that hurdle

07:39:30:00

and back into being part of the family again.
What was the response of family members from men who died in Vietnam, did you have any contact with any?
No I didn’t. There's

07:40:00:00

other things in my life that doesn’t involve Vietnam but involves death that also had an effect on me. One particular time was with New Guinea, this is not long after I came back to flying, I was in charge of the section and I had this young chap

07:40:30:00

that was working for me and I really didn’t know him all that well and when I came in the flight commander gave me a brief on everybody, because there was so many changes, so many new people, people I had never seen before. And he told me about this one guy and he said, “Look he has got a few hang ups, he has got a few problems. He will take a bit of sorting out you will need to take a firm hand with him.”

07:41:00:00

And I called him in to the office and his name was Gary and I said, “Gary sit down I need to talk to you.” And he said, “I know what this is about I haven’t been pulling my weight lately. But I promised as soon as you got here I would smarten up and do the

07:41:30:00

right thing. I know all about you, I promise that I will do this and that.” and I said, “All right. That’s fine, lets let everything slide now, let it go for now. You have made that promise to me let’s leave it at that. I am not going to give you a lecture”
Interviewee: Kenneth Howard Archive ID 1980 Tape 08

08:00:30:00

So I will just ask you to take the story back to when that man said, “I know what this is about.”
Yes he sat down with me in the office and he said, “Look I know what this is about, I haven’t been pulling my weight and people are starting to get upset. I promise that I will smarten up and do the right thing.

08:01:00:00

I have heard all about you and I know who you are and where you have been and what you have done. I respect that and you’re now the boss here so I will really smarten up.” I said, “All right Gary just let it go at that I am not about to lecture you or play the Father with you, lets say we have had a discussion and things

08:01:30:00

are going to change.” So he left and he was quite happy and I could see the change in him in just a few days he looked a lot happier and he sounded a lot happier and then I put the tasks on the board for the following month and I had tasked him to go to New Guinea and

08:02:00:00

come the time to go or just before he was to depart he came to me and said, “Look I can’t go to New Guinea, I am having all sorts of marital problems and I have got to get that straightened out ;is there anyone else you can send?” and I said, “No there is no one else I can send.” And so I thought about that for a while and I thought what I had been

08:02:30:00

through and I said, “Gary look what I will do, I will take that task. You stay here and get your life sorted out and I will do that task. I am a single man I don’t have to worry about anything. But when I get back in a months time you will have to take my place up there.” And he said, “Yes that’s fine I should have it all fixed up by then.”

08:03:00:00

I went off to New Guinea and I was flying with Greg Espry and Greg was a young single pilot and we had spent a month up there and we were due to come home and the night before we left t o come home we went down to a bar in Port Moresby and

08:03:30:00

Greg met this very attractive girl there and struck up a meaningful relationship. They promised to see each other and what have you. So when we came back to Australia, we left the next day and came back to Australia there was a couple of days and then they had to send

08:04:00:00

another crew up there, so Greg went to the CO and said, “Look I would like to go back.” Well I know the reason why Greg wanted to go back, because of the girl he had just met up there. So Gary, I said to Gary, “You have got to go to New Guinea, did you get your problems sorted out?” and he said, “No I didn’t get them sorted out

08:04:30:00

but I promised you I would go and I will go.” I said, “Okay.” So away he went, he went to New Guinea and they took off from Moresby and they flew to Lae. When they arrived up there they did their day's work in Lae and they were heading back to Moresby and it came out of Moresby that the weather was heading nasty and they decided to track direct and

08:05:00:00

cut through the mountains and come through the Cudgaroo Valley , while what they had actually done was gone into what is called the False Cudgaroo, they had taken it was a Y shape like that and this valley goes straight through and you can get through underneath the cloud through the valley. They flew down what was called the False Cudgaroo and got half way down and realised that they were in the wrong valley,

08:05:30:00

and they had twenty odd cadets on board that they were bringing back to Port Moresby, all Papuans and they disappeared, whole lot just couldn’t be found. And so then we had to send people out to search for them and what have you. And one of the pilots listened to the tape over and over

08:06:00:00

and over again of the flight and he could hear the pilot call “Lae” and say that they were tracking via the Cudgaroo so he worked out the point where that radio call would have been made and then he listened and then after a period, a long period he heard the click of a microphone

08:06:30:00

clip! And then nothing, right. So he then worked out, and he had an idea what might of happened, he said, “I think they have gone down the wrong valley, I think they have gone down the False Cudgaroo, so from the point from where he made the call to the point where the click was, he worked out where this is about where they should be. So he started to search in that

08:07:00:00

area from the air. And they went around and yes two cadets were spotted walking down a trail. So they sent in the rescue people, two of these cadets were two of the survivors, got them out and the rest of the crew were dead further up in the Cudgaroo where they had flown. They had tried to get out of there, came around hit the trees and went straight in.

08:07:30:00

And Greg Espry was on that, George Godfrey and Gary Power, they were the three. Now I don’t know whether I should blame myself for Gary’s death, making him go and do that flight, or whether I should have insisted he take that first flight and

08:08:00:00

that second flight would have been mine. But if I had been on that second flight, would I have died, would we have gone down the wrong valley? I don’t know. So that’s another little drama in my life that I was living with. I don’t

08:08:30:00

know whether I am over it or not yet.
Do you ask yourself those types of questions when you are the survivor of a war?
Well I guess yeah I do but its an unanswered question and what brought it home even more; I was at a car race meeting only a

08:09:00:00

month ago and I got talking to an old race hand, because one of the things Gary had said to me, that he was right into racing because he knew my interest in race cars. Not only did he have one race car, he had two and he would like me to team up with him and race the other car. And they were both formula fives. Now the guy I was talking to

08:09:30:00

he kept on talking about this Gary and I said, “I knew a Gary years and years ago that was into race cars. Gary Power.” And he said, “That’s him, Gary, I knew him well.” So it has been freshened up in my mind lately. I don’t know I don’t dwell on it but every

08:10:00:00

now and then when something like that arises I think about it.
Ken what has been personally what sort of emotional impact did the Vietnam War have on you?
I tried not to let anything effect me with the Vietnam War but I think somehow along the

08:10:30:00

line I got a little concerned about the dead and wounded that I was carrying. And this is why I turned my back on a lot of the Vietnam Veterans and the association years ago and I wouldn’t go to their reunions and funerals and what have you. But I have

08:11:00:00

slowly come out of that and now I attend when I can.
When you say concerned how did that pop up day-to-day? Would you have nightmares or?
No but my role in life today. I am an air safety investigator. I am the one that goes and kicks through the ashes of a crashed aeroplane to find out

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why it crashed. And an aeroplane is an aeroplane. And I keep thinking about like I said with Gary Power getting killed up in New Guinea., I think about those things. I think about other people that I know have been killed in air crashes. I guess in a way I am

08:12:00:00

lucky that I haven’t been involved in any major accidents myself, both my civil flying and my military flying has been pretty accident free.
When we were watching the film we talked a little bit about the suicide of some of the men

08:12:30:00

you served with, I don’t want to talk about individuals, but are you aware emotionally of what it has been like in particular for Vietnam Veterans?
Yes and (UNCLEAR ‘john the gods’ ) for them. A lot of them are still trying to get over the traumas and dramas of Vietnam. I didn’t experience a lot

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of those trauma and dramas when I was there so I didn’t let it affect me. Today every day was just another day’s flight, another days operation. Some people for whatever reason, they dwell on it. it is a bit like the story I just related about Gary,

08:13:30:00

I could dwell on that and really let that affect me. But I am trying not to let that affect me. I wonder sometimes whether or not that should have been me or shouldn’t have been. I guess that’s normal and I would be cold hearted if I didn’t. But I don’t let it get to the stage where I am affected by it,

08:14:00:00

well I don’t think I am affected by it.
Can you tell me what that first day was like back in Australia, can you remember what you did?
I can’t remember, I remember getting off the aeroplane. I remember greeting everyone there, my parents and my wife and getting in the car and driving home and that’s it.

08:14:30:00

I guess an elation but nothing out of the ordinary. I was thinking to myself, “Boy I have got a month off doing nothing”. That’s the only leave I got, a month off and then back to it.
We have talked to

08:15:00:00

other veterans who said they found it bizarre going from Vietnam and then back to Australia so quickly, did you encounter any culture shock?
No I didn’t. I think I just came back took the uniform off, in fact I came back in civilian clothes.

08:15:30:00

Stuck the uniform away in the hanger and never looked at it for a month. Became a civilian. That was it.
What sort of formal psychological support did the military offer you when you came home?
Nothing. And you must have got that from other veterans as well.

08:16:00:00

There was none as far as the air force was concerned, nothing. And I didn’t think that I needed it anyway.
What do you think now?
No I don’t think I need a psychoanalyst

08:16:30:00

to sit out and figure out why I part my hair on one side and not on the other and why I do the things I do. It is not related to Vietnam at all that’s too long ago.
So can you describe then what it was like to leave the military and adjust to civilian life?
Yes that’s a little daunting because it is almost like a safety net the military.

08:17:00:00

It is alike a big family, it is there secure, job security was there, it was secure. But there comes a time when you have got to quit, get out and get on with something else. And I did. Now I didn’t have as big a drama as some people did because I gout out and went into the aviation industry, so I got out and remained in the aviation

08:17:30:00

industry and I am still in the industry today. Not in the military aircraft, but I still see enough of the military aircraft. The other thing is I am located here at Richmond, I see military aircraft every day flying back and forth. So there is that association still there and the fact

08:18:00:00

that I am still in the industry doing what I am doing. I don’t find that such a huge change. Other people who got out of the military had been around aeroplanes all of their life got out and went and worked on a farm or something else entirely different other than aeroplanes. Yes some of those have had problems.

08:18:30:00

Given that your participation was early on in the war Ken, how did you follow the war when you came home, did you follow it much?
Not all that much no. I took an interest in it if it came up on TV or if there was a story in the paper I would read it and think about it for a

08:19:00:00

while and think, “That’s rubbish, whoever wrote this doesn’t know what he is talking about”. It wasn’t like that when I was there, but who knows times might have changed. I didn’t think too long and hard about it.
How did you feel when Australian troops were pulled out?
Well I thought that would have been necessary at the time because it was totally overrun, bizarre as it was

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it was totally overrun. Australia couldn’t have done anything about it at that time. Yes that was the safest thing to do, get out.
So looking back now how do you feel about the necessity of the Vietnam War?
When we were there it was absolutely

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necessary that we should be there. The communists were going to overrun the country and we had to stop them at all costs. Because we had been brainwashed into believing that if we didn’t stop them there the communists would come down and take over each of the Asian countries all of the way down until they hit Indonesia and then

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it was just a step across until we were infiltrated here. Looking back now that’s ridiculous, that was never going to happen, but I couldn’t see that back then but I can see it now.
Have you been back to Vietnam?
No I have been invited back and some of the boys are going back and they want to visit all of the old places and

08:21:00:00

the old haunts, but I think a lot of them are going to be in for a big shock when they get there. I have had friends who have gone back, civilian friends for that matter who have gone as tourists to look at the place and said, “It’s unbelievable what they have done with the place.” And I have described places and they said, “Oh no it doesn’t look like that that’s changed.”

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And I have got one or two friends who were there in the service and they have gone back and come back and said, “Oh it has really changed now.” So I would find lots of changes I guess.
What does the Vietnam Veterans Association mean? Why is it important?

08:22:00:00

Because we have all been there all seen what it was like there. There is that common bond between us, we are like a brotherhood, one big family. And I think we are even closer now than we ever were when we flew together. And you are going to see the

08:22:30:00

same thing happen when the boys come back from Iraq and Iran. You will see lots of associations spring up and a lot of people won’t want to join and then after a while, a few years has gone by, they will grow and grow in strength and they will become very strong ,as strong as we are today.

08:23:00:00

We all have something in common. We just don’t want to break those bonds you know, we just want to be together. It is always the same over and over again. We enjoy each other’s company even more now than we ever did before.
What was your opinion at the time

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and now about conscription?
Well it didn’t affect me but I have come to learn that the conscripts that we had, no one ever went to Vietnam that was a conscript that didn’t want to go. No conscript has ever been sent away, other than the Second World War, that’s didn’t want to go. Everyone had a choice about going to Vietnam and

08:24:00:00

if anyone tells you different to that then they are not telling the whole truth. But everyone was given an option. Conscription was never to send people to Vietnam, conscription was mainly to replace the people that were sent to Vietnam, but if any of the conscripts indicated that they would like to go they were sent.

08:24:30:00

Same as Iraq and Iran, no one is over there that didn’t want to go, everyone had a choice.
You mentioned earlier that you had a grandfather who had served in World War I and received the military medal and came back to Australia and disappeared,

08:25:00:00

obviously the war had….
Affected him somehow yes.
Is there something unique given the contact you have in what you call the family, is there something unique in the Vietnam experience? What will be the legacy?
Really I don’t know what the legacy will be.

08:25:30:00

What am I going to leave my kids apart from a film that I made when I was there and half a dozen medals or so. That will be it. There is nothing else I can leave them. What legacy? What did I achieve while I was there? What greatness did

08:26:00:00

I bring to the country when in the end we packed our bags and got out of there as fast as we could, I really don’t know.
I guess I am thinking that for a long time war service in Australia was strongly associated with Gallipoli and those sorts of icons and myths and we will eventually reach a point where that is passed onto Vietnam Veterans

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and I am wondering what you would like that to mean to Australians, how you would like them to remember Vietnam service?
One of the things that stands out very much with the First World War was the call to arms and those that took up that challenge immediately and went off to war,

08:27:00:00

a dreadful war but they went over and excelled on the battlefield, they really did. I think I would like it to be the same for Vietnam I would like to think, yeah he answered the call and went off and did his duty like he should of as a serviceman when we went to war in

08:27:30:00

Vietnam with the Americans. Korea is much the same but it has become the forgotten war the Korean conflict. And I should expect that the Middle East will follow on from us. I mean it has been forty years since I was in Vietnam. So

08:28:00:00

how many years has the Middle East been going now? Ten years?
I think it is fifteen.
Fifteen years well it is getting on a little now too, so maybe you will be sitting down talking to a few of those and I hope they answer the same way. The government needed them to do this and they have done it, they

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answered the call and they have gone. That’s how I would like to be remembered.
Since the day you came home from Vietnam and now sitting here how do you feel about the treatment of Vietnam Veterans a) by the government and b) buy the public?
Well I think there has been a huge turn around in the last few years.

08:29:00:00

How the government has treated us and how the public has treated us but for a while there we were persona non grata as far as the public were concerned. Nobody wanted to know us. They have turned around and you know I can see that by the Anzac parades, the people cheering and clapping and

08:29:30:00

giving us the accolades that we should have had from the beginning, it wasn’t there then but it is now. Older people too, people who were teenagers back when I was being shot at are now out cheering. And I would say that some of those people were probably the protestors at the time as well but

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they have turned around.
How do you feel about comparisons between Vietnam and the current war in Iraq being a contentious war?
Tow different wars, two different times, I don’t think we have much comparison. What we have today is out and out terrorism and that’s what they are fighting today.

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That won’t be like the Vietnam War. There was terrorism in, well it was a word that was never used back in those days, sure the enemy would get in and booby trap things. But there was never any parked cars with bombs in them or suicide bombers that would walk up

08:31:00:00

and blow you up. There was never that aspect. I find this war a totally dirty war, where as Vietnam wasn’t that dirty compared to this one.
Given that there is a lot of public protest

08:31:30:00

against the war in Iraq how do you think it will be different for those Gulf War veterans to what Vietnam veterans experienced in Australia?
I don’t think it will be any different. They will still face protests but I don’t think it will be as vicious as it was when we came back. We were the first to experience the viscousness of the

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anti-war protestors.
So how have we changed as a country in terms of regardless of what our feeling are towards a conflict, how we treat the veterans?
Well I think time is the healer in that respect. And I think most of them have now forgotten. Well half of them wouldn’t even know where Vietnam was let alone what we were doing there.

08:32:30:00

And but this war that’s on now is right in the minds of everyone at the moment. And the other thing is we have no casualties from the Australian side, where as we were running up casualties every other day in the Vietnam War, totally different type of war.

08:33:00:00

If you had the opportunity what would you have said at the time or what would you say now to one of those Vietnam War protestors?
What would I say?
What would you like them to understand?
I would like them to understand the role we played in that war. Why it was necessary for us to help the Americans at that stage.

08:33:30:00

We’re a bit one sided in that we’re, if we were to accept help from America and yet return nothing to them, and if it wasn’t for the Americans we would all be eating rice and speaking Japanese today, that’s a fact.

08:34:00:00

They really came to our aid in the Second World War. We were a nation of about ten million people total, up against the might of the Japanese army and if it wasn’t for the Americans we would certainly be overrun by the Japanese so we have got to thank them for that but far too many people have

08:34:30:00

forgotten that. We went to war with the Americans, I don’t know what deals were done behind closed doors I didn’t follow the politics that well to know, there must have been some. But even so I think we had an obligation to help the Americans because of the help they gave us. I think it is much the same with the Gulf War,

08:35:00:00

we are partners in this thing and we have to do our share. We as a nation we don’t have the people or the resources to protect ourselves, we need America very badly. Can’t trust anybody else, can’t rely on anybody else. But the Americans

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I think we can.
How would you answer, you mentioned these terms like “baby killer” being thrown about, how would you answer those questions of human rights abuses? What would you say to someone?
That was war. That was war. Nobody purposely went out to kill babies. No one purposely went out to kill a woman

08:36:00:00

but a woman can throw a hand grenade just as well as a man can. The baby is the cannon fodder [expendable people] that some of these armies will use to make it look bad for the other side. It is the same in Iraq and Iran. They are putting women and children

08:36:30:00

in front of the troops knowing full well that if there is an attack they will be the first ones killed so they can portray their bodies and show the world that the Americans are killing innocent civilians. Who was the barbaric ones here the people doing the killing or the people putting those people in front of their own armies as cannon

08:37:00:00

fodder? You’re starting to get me wound up a little bit here. I am a bit thingy about that.
What do you mean thingy?
Well I don’t like what's going on.
I want to just ask one more question then I don’t want you to get thingy. What sort of a day is Anzac Day for you?

08:37:30:00

Anzac to me is to it is a parade, it’s, we remember those who have gone before. We remember everybody who has been to war. It is a day to sit down with your mates and talk about anything but war, we don’t discuss war, we don’t

08:38:00:00

discuss what we did other than the camaraderie we have today and who is going to buy the next round of beers, that’s about it.
I think that’s a beautiful note to end on Ken thankyou very much for participating in the project I hope you had a good day.
Thankyou.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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