Australia’s Vietnam war ghost soldiers

“What did you do in the war, daddy?”

How many children have asked their fathers this question for thousands of years? Most could answer truthfully. But because of the security blackout the government imposed on them, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) ghost warriors who fought a secret war in Thailand to support the troops in Viet Nam have had to be silent for 40 years.

Each airman served a minimum of 6 months in Ubon, Thailand, near the Laotian border. When they arrived back home it was to find that no one was interested in their war. Many Australians didn’t even believe our troops were in Thailand. Yet more than 2,400 personnel served there between May 1962 and August 1968.

The Australian Federal Government insisted until the Mohr Review in 1999 that the Ubon base was part of the Far East Strategic Reserve, which was active before 1963 in Malaya.

Because of this, the government claimed that the veterans were not entitled to Vietnam war support benefits. When the vets started submitting petitions to the government for recognition and benefits, they pointed out that Malaya was a long way from Ubon and in another country.

Aerial view of Ubon air base
Aerial view of Ubon air base

Malaya did not want anything to do with the Vietnam War either. It certainly didn’t want to have the Sabre fighters based in Butterworth involved in the war. For that reason, the Sabres flew on changeover from Butterworth to Ubon and back tucked under the wings of re-supply planes so that they could not be detected by radar. Deceit was a constant feature of the federal government’s policy throughout the years.

Bob Hope Show December 1967. Photo by George Knowles 1967-68
Bob Hope Show December 1967. Photo by George Knowles 1967-68 – I was there

RAAF vets who served in Ubon have suffered various disabilities since returning home. But the federal government refused to recognize for many years that these troops qualified for medical help. Some even died as a result, ignored, unacknowledged, and neglected.

Surviving veterans unearthed files to support petitions to the government for benefits and recognition when the statute of limitations ran out on the Freedom of Information Act. The vets claimed they had been denied equal recognition for their service in a war zone.

Bob Hope and Racquel Welch entertaining the troops – Ubon, 1967.
Bob Hope and Racquel Welch entertaining the troops – Ubon, 1967

They were not the only ones who were ignored either. Australian Defense Force (ADF) troops who took part in Malayan Emergency operations, and others who were on active service during the Indonesian Confrontation, returned home to the same treatment from an ungrateful country.

In 1999 the Australian Federal Government commissioned an independent commission to review these petitions. The Mohr Review, headed by Judge Robert Mohr of South Australia, reviewed anomalies in the service entitlements for ADF troops who had served in Asian war zones. This was the 4th commission set up to review the vet’s petitions.

The 1992 CIDA report ruled that RAAF vets in Ubon qualified for warlike service benefits. The government refused to act on it.

Judge Mohr found ample evidence to support the vet’s claims and wrote a strong recommendation to the federal government. This finally convinced the Australian government to honor them with a package of benefits, including medals and pensions to the survivors.

Although the Australian government has awarded the Australian Active Service Medal to those who served after 1965, it seems the award may actually be invalid. The laws that govern who can be awarded that medal state that it is only awarded after receiving a campaign medal. The Ubon vets have not yet been awarded a campaign medal.

Australian Active Service medal 45-75 reverse

Australian Active Service medal 45-75 reverse


Australian Active Service medal 45-75

Australian Active Service medal 45-75

In addition, the vets are fighting to get the Vietnam Logistic & Support Medal. By awarding this medal, the federal government would at last acknowledge that the Ubon vets were supporting active service troops in Viet Nam.

Commemorative medal issued by Thai King Adulyadej in appreciation of the veterans who served in his country during the Vietnam war
Commemorative medal issued by Thai King Adulyadej in appreciation of the veterans who served in his country during the Vietnam war

Compare this to the attitude of the Thai people. Recently, His Majesty King Bumiphol Adulyadej heard about the plight of the RAAF vets who served bravely to protect Thailand during those dangerous years. To show the Thai nation’s gratitude, His Majesty gave permission to the Ubon veterans to cast a 40th Anniversary Medal. The medal is worn with pride by all those who served at Ubon Ratchathani between May 1962 and August 1968.

Despite the awards and benefits the Australian government has grudgingly given since the Mohr Review, the vets feel there is still much to be done. For years the Australian government was reluctant to acknowledge that their service in Ubon was in support of the Viet Nam war. Was it just for the money involved, or does it go deeper?

WHAT WENT ON IN UBON

The Ubon base was there for 2 reasons: To gather SigInt (signals intelligence) and pass it to Canberra and to CIA communications centers in the Pacific and the USA, and to support USAF aircraft and the air and ground defense of Thailand. This support released more USAF aircraft for use in operation “Rolling Thunder”, the bombing of North Vietnam.

This was not what the Australian federal government said officially, but that is certainly what the RAAF boys were doing there. Nor would the Thai government at the time admit that it gave support to US and RAAF forces based in Thailand for fear of reprisal from NVN and possibly China.

Officially, the Australian government to this day insists that the RAAF was in Ubon only for the ‘Air Defense of Thailand’!

It seems that after all these years they are still afraid of having embarrassing secrets revealed about their involvement in the Viet Nam war.

A DANGEROUS WAR

Life on the base was hell. The US Air Force was sending off seven F4C Phantom fighter bombers to bomb Viet Nam at least every 20 minutes around the clock. The Australian base was about 200 meters from the runway, so all RAAF personnel were deafened by the roar of 7 afterburners at full throttle every time a flight took off. Nervous disorders and hearing problems are common among the vets as a result.

These are not the most serious illnesses that can be attributed to serving in Ubon. Many Ubon vets have suffered slow chemical poisoning as a result of the poor controls on how chemicals were used around the base.

For example, one of the troops assigned to fill a water tanker with drinking water for the troops reported he was ordered to use the same tanker to transport insecticides. Even though the tanker was supposed to be cleaned out before changing cargos it was extremely difficult to remove all traces of the chemicals. Using the same tanker to transport drinking water was an irresponsible act, and a clear health hazard for the troops. But no one in the Australian government at the time cared.

F-4 Flightline, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). Photo by George Knowles 1967-68
F-4 Flightline, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). Photo by George Knowles 1967-68

Since then the vets have had a hard time persuading the federal government to accept that the disabilities some of them suffer today were caused by these dangerous chemicals. Some have even died as a result. Illnesses include cancers, palsy, diabetes, and abnormal births, to name a few.

Agent Orange victim in Vietnam.
Agent Orange victim in Vietnam

A number of veterans, both US and Australian, are on record as having seen drums of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D in the distinctive banded drums that were used to store a rainbow of defoliants and herbicides. Subsequent scientific research has confirmed that these chemicals are responsible for deaths, deformities, and diseases in Vietnamese and among veterans, like the lady pictured on the left.

Add to this living huts, or hooches as we called them, made of corrugated iron. WW II Japanese POW camps would have been more comfortable in comparison, as they were mostly made of bamboo. We sweltered inside the tin ovens during the hot season, or we were kept awake during the wet season by the rain belting down on the bare tin roof. The weather was typical of north eastern Thailand: A relentless hot sun that beat down on the tin roofs making it impossible for night shift personnel to sleep. There was no air conditioning, just a few feeble fans hanging from the ceiling. Add the torment of not being able to sleep because of the almost constant noise of flights of F4C planes taking off and landing, and life was hell. The only people on the base who enjoyed any comfort were the guys in the communications hut, which was sandbagged and air-conditioned.

The hooches were regularly sprayed by fogging machines containing Dioxin and Dieldren diluted with diesoline to keep the mosquitoes down. The Thais doing this job thought it a great joke to fog unsuspecting sleepers. Some troops have suffered various disabilities as a result.

US troops hooches were luxurious compared to the RAAF huts we suffered in -- Phot courtesy of Dan Cullen, USAF Ubon 67-68
US hooches simlar to the RAAF huts we suffered in — Photo courtesy of Dan Cullen, USAF Ubon 67-68

The weather was typical of north eastern Thailand: A relentless hot sun that beat down on the tin roofs making it impossible for night shift personnel to sleep. There was no air conditioning, just a few feeble fans hanging from the ceiling. The only people on the base who enjoyed any comfort were the guys in the communications hut, which was sandbagged and air-conditioned.

Sandbags were essential. The communist forces knew the RAAF boys were there and often tried to put them out of commission. One of their favorite tricks was to site half a dozen mortar tubes in the jungle near the base aimed at strategic areas. It was easy for them to wander by any time with a few shells and drop them in. They could disappear long before anyone got there to investigate.

The troops were called to action stations whenever flights of communist helicopters approached the base. They were usually chased off by the US Air Force. But in 1969 when the RAAF had already evacuated their base, a communist attacking force actually made it through the air defenses and flew over the area where the Aussies had been to attack the US base.

In 1967 the communists set up an artillery gun a few miles away in the jungle ready to start pounding the bases. They never got to fire it because the USAF spotted it while they were setting up and bombed it out of existence. These were not isolated incidents, but part of an ongoing campaign to put the allies out of action. — AAT Riley, para 7

DAMAGED AIRCRAFT

Damaged aircraft were a danger too. In 1967 during one veteran’s service at Ubon an F4C Phantom flamed out on takeoff and exploded at 3 a.m. A group of RAAF boys playing poker in their billet near the runway were knocked to the floor by the blast. Then the shrapnel started dropping on them. One piece about 2 feet square smashed through the roof of the base infirmary and buried itself in the wall just above the doctors head. If he had sat up suddenly he would have been decapitated. The piece of shrapnel was subsequently displayed above the bar for all to see.

This is an F-4C landing on Runway 5 at Ubon in late 1967. Photo by George Knowles Ubon 1967-68
This is an F-4C landing on Runway 5 at Ubon in late 1967. Photo by George Knowles Ubon 1967-68

In 1968 a USAF Cessna O-2 FAC aircraft had an engine cut out on take off and crashed into the ‘Fuel Farm’ fence about 10 meters from the Aussie base. RAAF air defense guards could not save the pilots because the plane caught fire trapping the crew inside. A few feet higher and the plane would have crashed into the fuel farm next door to the RAAF base with disastrous results.

That same year another aircraft slewed sideways off the runway into the area where the RAAF boys played soccer. It was pure luck that the plane didn’t do any serious damage. The danger was always there and very real.

Another Phantom landed with one hung up undercarriage. The pilot lost control and the rear bombardier ejected sideways into a tree stump near the runway. The pilot ejected a moment later into the runway. He had to be scraped off the cement.

Despite the overwhelming evidence from a wide variety of veteran sources, the DVA continues to deny that any deaths occurred, or that many of the illnesses we suffer from were caused by our service in a war zone.

SECURITY CONCERNS

Secrecy was tight during those years. All the Allied governments involved tried to keep their activities secret, especially from their own troops. It was only when the veterans started meeting each other at reunions and through the internet that a larger picture emerged. It’s not a pretty one. No wonder our governments didn’t want anyone to know what the were up to.

Does anyone recognize these blokes? Probably taken outside the Comm Centre in the early days of Ubon
Jimmy Braybrook, Don Sewell, Alan Johnson outside the Comm centre in June 1962. (If anyone has information about Jimmy please contact the author)

Interestingly, the veterans searching through the mountain of documents for information on their service are finding that large chunks of it have disappeared. If you want to find the dental records of everyone who was posted to Ubon, no problem. But important information like commanding officers reports and messages handled by the communications center are missing. Other documents like medical bulletins sent to the doctors serving there appear to be lost as well. The vets find this not only very frustrating, but strange too. Why are documents suddenly disappearing like this so long after the event? Do they contain embarrassing information the government would like to suppress?

On parade, Ubon 1967, courtesy of The Electronic Blue Beret
On parade, Ubon 1967, courtesy of The Electronic Blue Beret

It appears that some identities have been erased as well. There is the case of one vet who had a top secret clearance for his work in the Ubon communications room. Years after his service he wrote to RAAF radio school to request a copy of his education records. They wrote back and said that all his documents had been destroyed when the school moved from Victoria to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.

He thought it was strange that they could supply details of his examination results, but not his education records. Why would they destroy records just because they were moving locations?

When this same veteran left the RAAF a few years after serving in Ubon the Federal Police followed him everywhere he went.

About one year after he got out his girlfriend got a job in Darwin. They decided to hitch hike up there from Sydney. They used cash during the trip so there was no paper trail. This was not intentional. They just didn’t have credit cards.

The Feds lost the veteran and went frantic going to his friends, neighbors and family trying to find out where he was. When he returned to Sydney six months later his friends were not too happy with him. They were tired of being harassed by the Feds.

Shortly afterwards the couple went to New Zealand. When he returned four years later he realized that the Feds were still watching him. He was grilled at immigration control about what he had been doing in New Zealand. Was this security, paranoia, or harassment?

Veterans searching for information that could be used to bolster their claims cases often find it is doubly difficult, because there seems to be no standard search criteria they can use. Documents are stored under labels that don’t seem to bear any relation to their content. Files have been put in the wrong locations. Sifting through them is a nightmare.

Despite this, enough facts have emerged to force the Australian government to give the Ubon ghost warriors and other ADF members partial recognition and support. But the vets claim not enough has been done yet.

War is a serious business, especially when you are fighting a secret war. The Australian federal government denied its own veteran’s pleas for medical and financial support for much too long. During the war it authorized the use of toxic poisons without taking proper precautions. It also supported illegal operations inside the borders of countries Australia was not officially at war with. These are all shameful acts that must be rectified and paid for. It’s the least the brave men and women who served in Ubon deserve after all these years.

Permanent link to this article: https://vietnamvetssc.org.au/australias-vietnam-war-ghost-soldiers/

56 comments

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    • DANIEL CULLEN on November 2, 2019 at 1:10 am
    • Reply

    You’ve used one of my personal photos on your site.It’s not a problem, however I would like to be credited with the photo or please remove it.It is the photo of Hootch T670

    • Donna Godwin on April 26, 2019 at 10:23 pm
    • Reply

    Hi, does anyone remember my father Kevin White who was in Ubon Thailand in 1967. He said he was guarding the Airstrip. He cancer March 2019. I have very little information about his service and are struggling to get info from DVA.

    1. Do you know the dates he was there Donna? I was there from Jan to July 1967. Sorry to hear about your father’s cancer. It’s not uncommon for us vets because they were spraying Agent Orange around the US and RAAF bases then.

    2. Donna, I was there from Jan to July 1967. Do you have a picture of Kev from around that time? It might job my memory. Send it to mthomholt@gmail.com if you can.

    • Sharyn DeWinter on February 11, 2019 at 7:13 pm
    • Reply

    My father was at what he called Hush Hush , I am gathering it was to do with the Ubon and before Vietnam war was known from what I have read ? My parents had 3 children before he went , all healthy, and I was born after with a turned eye and bicuspid aortic valve He never would say what happened and he came home a very different person who drank heavily and was violent, he died of cancer

    • Peter Rees on September 10, 2018 at 1:59 pm
    • Reply

    I served at Ubon from early Nov ’67 to mid may ’68 as an MTD working much of that time on refueling tankers and was speaking to PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF 79SQN at the revetments just prior to him departing on that fateful flight that resulted in his death on final approach to Ubon, a very sad occasion as I was also a responder to the crash site assisting the medics (Bob Sinclair and others) with the recovery of Mark McGrath and the recovery of the remains of the aircraft. also tolerating the conditions in the living huts was somewhat unpleasant a lot of the time. With regard to the 2,4,5-T it was sprayed along some fence lines as a defoliant, one of concern was the fence separating the fuel farm from our hut line just a metre and a half away from the huts. I hasten to add that I certainly enjoyed working with all my fellow airmen that I came in contact with over my tenure at Ubon.

    • WOFF David Hadfield RAAF Rtd on March 11, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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    On Tuesday 13 March 2018 at 0900 at Wing 21 HQ of the Royal Thai Air Force, RTAF Base Ubon Ratchathani, a memorial to PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF 79SQN will be unveiled by the Australian Defence Attache CAPT Smith RAN.

    PLTOFF McGrath was killed 3 January 1968 when his Sabre suffered a major engine failure whilst on late finals to runway 05 at Ubon. PLTOFF McGrath`s aircraft was too low to effect a successful ejection and he died on impact.

    LEST WE FORGET

      • Mal Barnes RAAF Ubon Group on April 14, 2018 at 11:04 am
      • Reply

      RE. W/O D Hadfield’s post about P/O M McGrath’s Sabre crash 3.1.68 at Ubon!!!!!

      Can W/O Hadfield please supply me with any more info…. i.e. who organised this?
      Who paid for this? Did D^D help etc?
      Any Photos????

      I presume that this memorial is placed opposite Wing HQ in the little ‘park’ area where the RAAF Contingent ‘plaque’ used to be before it was stolen!

      Can W/O Hadfield pass any more light on this matter for me.

    1. Hi Dave Looking for a way to contact you (Rtd Raaafie in Bangkok) would love to find out more about the memorial plaque Can you drop a line to cattoc@gmail.com Cheers Chris

    • David Marr on February 19, 2018 at 9:35 am
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    G’day All,
    Good to hear comments on Ubon, it certainly didn’t get many, (publicly) at the time, I was in the first group to go to Ubon. We went via Bangkok – I wrote an article about our adventures in Bangkok and Ubon and it appeared in the RAAF Radschool Magazine. Click on the link or copy and paste it on a new page to read all about it. http://www.austradesecure.com/radschool/Vol24/Page14.htm

    Cheers,
    David Marr

    • Sue on February 3, 2018 at 5:22 pm
    • Reply

    G’day,

    I bought a few years ago a collection of historic world photography and started today to catalogue the photos as I’ll show them in 2020 in an exhibition.

    I just opened one pack and found a photograph of

    005_PIC-N14 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Ray Mitchell

    005_PIC-N15 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Leslie Taylor “Squizzy”

    005_PIC-N16 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Graham Erickson (QLD), PTE John Thornycroft, Sydney,
    SGT Phil Dixon, Sydney, L/C Merv Butler

    005_PIC-N18 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Ray Mitchell, SGT Phil Dixon, Sydney, L/C Merv Butler

    005_PIC-N19 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison

    005_PIC-N20 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison, PTE Geo..??? Newman patrolling “The Rubber”

    005_PIC-N21 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison, Captain Peter Rothwell, Sydney

    Can you please help to get a print to the soldiers if still alive or to their family?Thank you for your help!

    Kind regards,
    Sue

    • Dee on January 31, 2018 at 11:43 am
    • Reply

    Hi all,

    would just like to say thank you for telling the mostly unknown and barely ack’ed story of the ADF in Ubon.

    My uncle Gordon Hampson was posted to Butterworth in the early 60’s as a gunnie and subsequently deployed to the Ubon theatre from there. Sadly he passed in Sept 2015 with cancer – directly attributable to his service.

    Would also like to give a huge shout out to all of the wonderful chaps who served with Gordon that he used to march with in Sydney on ANZAC Days till he passed. What an amazing bunch of chaps they are and I do hope someone is capturing their stories and recollections to share with more than their immediate families. Theirs is a history that must not be lost to future generations and we all need to ensure proper recognition by the Australian Government even if posthumously.

    Cheers and thanks again,

    Dee

    • Robin Denman on September 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm
    • Reply

    Hi, my name is Robin Denman, I was one of the first of the 20 sent on the first Herc, from Butterworth to Ubon, on the 31MAY62.. Some may remember me as I was the CPL responsible for handing out the 303 Rifles, Ammunition, Shovels etc., on the night of our first scare and having to dig our “Fox Holes”. I was also responsible for setting up the showing of our first Movies screened onto the back of a Truck Canopy with a white sheet taped across it. I sure other early members would remember the Road Runner cartoon and his “Beep Beep”. Still have some very fond memories of those early days .

    • Robert (Bob) Smoothy on August 30, 2017 at 3:03 pm
    • Reply

    As an LAC Telegraphist, I served on RAAF Ubon Jan-Jun 1966. My work post was the Communications Centre, and I noticed among the stories and comments, a mention of how uncomfortable our living was in the corregated iron huts, but the communications staff had a sand-bagged and airconditioned building. For the record, we only enjoyed the aircomditioning during our duty stint, and lived in the same huts as everyone else. The only real perk we enjoyed was on our roster of duty switch operator, and there was a bed for us to sleep in during the night. However, a good nights sleep was rare, with all manner of phone calls to attend to during the night. My most memorable duty during my tour was when I was assiigned to guard duty on the parked Sabre Jets. On my arrival at the hard stand, where there was a small corregated iron hut, a corporal SP wasted no time in having me sign for a SLR rifle, a full magazine of live ammunition, and one blank cartridge, and left me to it, with the instruction that the rifle was loaded with the blank in the breech, safety catch on, and I was to keep watch on the jungle perimeter at the end of the runway, and to challenge anyone who approached. If anyone failed to stop and identify themselves I was to fire the blank at them, re-cock the weapon and prepare to engage them if necessary. A somewhat scary thought for a LAC Telegraphist.

    1. Nothing had changed a year later….except I don’t recall if we had a blank to fire first.

    2. You are correct, Bob. We only enjoyed the air-con during our duty hours.

      Loading any rifle with a blank (or blanks) in a war situation is pure idiocy.

    • JODI LOWDEN on April 21, 2017 at 10:35 pm
    • Reply

    hi
    I am writing about my father ROBERT THOMAS LOWDEN whom served but oftern talked to me about how he waited for his pension and medals, I am proud of my fathers service LEST WE FORGET

    • Barry Javens on March 7, 2017 at 1:43 am
    • Reply

    I just stumbled on this site by accident…it’s actually the only thing I have ever seen written about Ubon.

    I served two tours up there as an ADG in 1966 and 67. The second tour ended with us being posted directly to Vung Tau, with going home to Oz first.

    The late Jan Kirkwood was a very good friend of mine and he lost his life when the house we shared burnt to the ground.

    Living and working there certainly had its moments!

      • Phil Javens on April 7, 2018 at 3:36 pm
      • Reply

      You always pop up somewhere brother, i was thinking of you as i read, eagerly looking for your name. As always, i found you again.
      Keep well mate.

      Your bro,

      Mooty

    1. G’day Barry
      I am compiling a list of names to be recited at a Malaya-Borneo Veterans Day Service of Commemoration to be held in Adelaide on 25 August 2018. I note that John Kirkwood’s name is listed on the AWM Roll of Honour under the title ‘Thailand, 1965-1968’, however the AWM also lists his identity photograph under ‘Indonesian Confrontation, 1962-1966’. Would it be fair to say his service was related to Confrontation? Or more specifically in support of operations in Vietnam?
      Do you know the location of his grave, or any memorial?
      Many thanks

        • Victor Smith on July 14, 2019 at 4:00 pm
        • Reply

        Paul A Rosenzweig, John Kirkwoods time at Ubon would more realistically be considered as in support of operations in Vietnam. (I was also an ADG and was at Ubon from March ‘to October ’67 and then went to Vung Tau, Vietnam.

        1. Vic, I was at Ubon from Jan to July 1967. Perhaps you remember me? Mike Holt, telegraphist.

      • Victor Smith on July 14, 2019 at 3:57 pm
      • Reply

      Barry Javens, long time no hear. I hope all is well. Regards, Vic Smith

    • Max Borthwick on January 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm
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    Hello, my dad, Roy Borthwick was a flight sergeant who served his 6 months in Ubon in 1964. Would have been over the Aussie winter period. He was stationed at Regents Park in Sydney and returned there after his time in Thailand. He served for 20 years with the RAAF. Does anyone recall him? Thank you.

      • Greg Bland (fire fighter) on December 23, 2017 at 3:56 pm
      • Reply

      When In 64 was he there exactly. Secondly what was he mustering/job?

        • Max Borthwick on July 10, 2018 at 4:22 pm
        • Reply

        Hello Greg, sorry for the very late reply as I have not been back to this site since leaving my message. Roy would have been there around the Aussie winter period. I was only 8 years old at the time so exact dates I cannot give and my mum has since passed so I cannot get any further information. His job in Aus was Flight Sergeant and he was in stores and based at Regents Park. He was a bald man with moustache and a little portly 🙂

    • David Hodgetts on July 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm
    • Reply

    I have just come across this site as a result of searching for information and proof I was at Ubon in 1962. I wa a Royal New Zealand Provost,(Military Police) serving at Terendak Camp in Malaysia,our commanding Officer was Major Mick Gray (Australian Provost) Our unit was made up of RMP Royal Military Police, Australian Provost,New Zealand Provost. Under the command of Captain Collins (Aust) about 20 of the Terendak unit were sent to Bangkok where we became part of a large group of troops that went to Ubon on Seato Exercise Dhanarajata.
    We travelled to Ubon in Convoy via a mud road cut through the jungle,known at the time as Friendship Highway.
    This journey took 3 days in a Land Rover/jeep and we were in a terrible state when we arrived at Ubon Military Airfield.
    AS Military Police we were assigned mainly traffic and aircraft (Taxiing) duties in and around the airfield. I have many memories of this period such as Thai Airforce aircraft (propeller) taxing in pairs down the runway prior to take off and on one occasion as two aircraft were turning for take off they collided and the leading aircraft was cut in two by the propellers of the following aircraft,fortunately for the pilot just behind his seat . I also have memories of a US F11 when I was on point duty at the end of a Runway. This aircraft came in at very low altitude and right above me accelerated into a vertical climb hitting all the afterburners, A very frightening experience that left me flat on the Ground for some time.
    I am in the process of a claim with the NZ Veterans as I have health problems but no one believes or can confirm I was in Ubon. Can anyone help
    Regards
    David Hodgetts

      • David Hodgetts on July 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm
      • Reply

      Apologies it was 1963 not 1962 I was in Ubon ulp A.(memory lapse:)

    1. Dave, that Friendship Highway is a sealed road all the way to Ubon and at least 50k further on. I married a girl from Trakarn Puedphon at the end of the road. Still married to her 20 years later. So we used to head out to her village at least once a year. It’s still an arduous trip, but nowhere near as bad as it must have been for you mate.

      Ubon has grown from a single block beside the river to well over a million people today. It’s still a great place to visit though. The RAAF base is gone….almost impossible to find anything remaining.

    • Fred Fortescue on July 6, 2015 at 6:34 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Shirley,
    The easiest way to get the medal is to go to the website. .. Thailand Ubon RAAF medals-
    Heritage Medals , and buy it.
    It was awarded by the King of Thailand. You won’t find it on the Australian Government site. Good luck

      • David Marr on February 18, 2018 at 9:53 am
      • Reply

      Fred Fortescue – a name from the past.
      G’day Fred, I just received this article from an old mate, (Ed McEvoy) and recognized your name.
      I was on the first flight, (by Dakota) from Butterworth to Ubon via Bangkok. We left Butterworth an members of 77 Sqn. and became 79 Sqn. while at Ubon.
      We stayed several days in Bangkok, (as guests of the Thai Government), before servicing the Sabres (which had arrived via Singapore) and then flying on to Ubon, where you guys had set-up camp for us.
      I have fond memories of Ubon and the wonderful Thai people and hope to visit there again sometime, (before I fall of the perch).
      I well remember the emergency “issue of arms” and feverish, digging of holes, into which we hurriedly jumped, (to defend the base from incoming helicopters) and which, finally, (I believe) gained us the AASM and qualifying service.

    • Shirley Starbrook on July 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm
    • Reply

    My dad was posted to Ubon in 1964. I am wondering if anyone may remember him…..WOFF H.R (Pat) Grant, he was a Caterer. He had many short postings to Ubon after this 1st 6 month one.
    Unfortunately dad passed away in 1987, much too young and never spoke to us about his posting there or about any of his subsequent short postings to Vietnam. Although having read your article about living conditions there, I do recall him saying that life was very tough
    How is it possible to apply for the Thai medal on his behalf?
    Thank you for such an interesting article.

    • Annie on June 29, 2015 at 8:13 pm
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    Do any of the Ubon RAAF boys remember Flight Lieu. John Harry Robinson (Now Deceased). My children would love to know more about their father’s service.

    1. I have forwarded your message to our President Annie. Can you tell us what year John served up there?

    • Fred Fortescue on June 2, 2015 at 7:59 pm
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    Hi All,
    I stumbled on this website, and have read all the interesting posts. I was on the 1st C130 to land at Ubon on the
    1/6/62. Transferred from 478 Sqdn. The guys from 3 or 77 Sqdn (forget which) went via Bangkok, together with the Sabres. Some sort of 7 to10 day quarantine period, as they could not fly direct to Ubon from Butterworth. We were kicked out the back of the Hurc about fairly early that morning and told that by days end we had to have somewhere to sleep, eat , some sort of ablutions and toilet. We made it, and even had a couple of VB s .

  1. I hope there will be no more wars to come. I was born after world war II even in pictures i can see the difficult situation of the people and most of all the soldiers. That’s why i highly respect all the veterans.

    • Mal Barnes on April 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm
    • Reply

    Mike,

    You’ve done it again….good story…put together from a lot of work done by others (I,m talking about me).

    Ubon Vets now have
    ASM (early period)
    AASM & VLSM RAS Badge (June 65 onwards)

    AASM (May to July 1962 blokes)

    Push from RVNC Medal is in progress….we wait again.

    P/O M McGrath & LAC J Kirkwood both have their names engraved on the ‘Honour Roll’ in the War Memorial in Canberra (thanks to one Mick Morrissey….

    Regards,

    Mal B

    1. Very true Mal. I couldn’t have written this article without the input from many people, yourself included. Thanks mate.

        • Paul Strachan on September 28, 2018 at 11:35 am
        • Reply

        Hi
        I am a RAAF FSGT Medic veteran of recent conflicts.

        I am writing a history of RAAF Medics post WWII until Afghanistan.

        Would you or any of your members have any info on any RAAF medics serving in Malayan Emergency, the Confrontation and Ubon.

        Or point me in the right direction?

        Thanks

        Paul

    • David Hadfield on March 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm
    • Reply

    Notwithstanding the long overdue official recognition and approval to wear the RAAF Ubon 40th anniversary medal instituted and approved by His Majesty The King of Thailand, I am extremely disturbed to learn that Australia’s only operational casualty in Thailand, PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF has no memorial, plaque etc. in Thailand. Who in DVA wants to run with this? Lest we Forget.

    David Hadfield
    Thailand

    1. Thank you David. As a Ubon veteran I applaud your idea. Please call DVA and talk to them about it. I think you will find a very sympathetic ear over there.

      Cheers
      Mike Holt
      A111874 RAAF

    • RCB veteran on January 14, 2014 at 7:02 pm
    • Reply

    Hi

    An interesting service of those who served at Ubon, there is currently a push for recognition for those who served at Butterwoth Air Base – Malaysia as Rifle Company Butterworth 1970 to 1989 during what is now known as the 2nd Malaysian Emergency. An interesting aspect of this service is that up until 1975 Butterworth Air Base was used as a transit base for vietnam in terms of troop movements and logistics.

    The 2nd Emerergency was fuelled by both China and Nth Vietnam in their push for domination of SE Asia.
    The vets of this service are facing the same hurdles in terms of recognition due to lack of government records.

    more can be found at wwwrarassociation.com. Click on the SA Branch / advocacy tab/ rifle company butterworth.

    • Janet Cross Harradine on January 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm
    • Reply

    My father Bob “Bodgie” Cross, served in Ubon Thailand but did not speak much of it. Would love to hear from anyone who may have known him there, and am interested to hear tales. Dad passed away in Feb 2000. Mum lives on the Gold Coast.

      • Greg Bland (fire fighter) on December 23, 2017 at 4:05 pm
      • Reply

      Hi There, Can’t recall ever working with “Bogie” during my 8 years as a fire fighter ,in the RAAF incl six mths in Ubon 25Jul 64 till 25th Jan 65. He was in Thailand later than I was. I have seen some mention of him on other sites but I can’t recall which ones. Pat Mildren may be of more assistance.

    • Lawrie Wilson on October 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm
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    Interesting essay on Ubon. I was at Ubon in 1962 and again in 1967. The mention of tent accomodation in 1962 reminds me of the rain storms that used to sweep Ubon. You could hear it coming, then everything would go grey and a wall of water would fall. You would then be ankle deep in water. If you were at the outdoor movies you had to hang on to the marquee, else it would blow away. A couple of times the projector blew over. Luckily, we didn’t have to man the trenches, as they quickly filled with dirty yellow water. The place abounded with snakes. We had to shower in a cubicle with chest height hessian walls, near the edge of the passing road. We used to wave at the locals often as they passed by while we showered. The kids were great, they often met us as we walked up the road to our mess tent and gave us flowers they had picked.

    1967 the accommodation had moved up the road to a new location. Well I remember the Phantoms taking off and landing, the heat of the huts and working places, and the change in the attitudes of the locals after the invasion of thousands of Americans. I always suspected Dioxin and Gamalean were used around the base. I am sure they used it in Butterworth too. They are a great Carcinogen.

    Thanks for the memories.

    • Alan Johnson on July 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm
    • Reply

    In addition, The rifles were 303 lee enfields, 5 rounds in the magazine, bayonet and scabbard, and no other webbing. We signals staff also had colt 45’s which were to be used to destroy our crypto machines if under attack. And, Yes we were on active service. As a point of interest, we were never told where we were being deployed until we actually landed at Ubon, On arrival we then proceeded to our camp site where we were told to erect our own tents. Oddly enough Radio Peking broadcast a warm welcome to the Australian airmen in Ubon and wished us a pleasant stay, this was a few days after our arrival..SECRECY was supposed to be the key word………after 51 years, our active service has been recognised.

    1. Thanks for that information Alan. By the time we arrived in 67 we were issued with SLR’s, with bayonets…and yes, I remember the 45’s although I wasn’t issued one. Same with the secrecy. We knew we were going somewhere north of Butterworth, but we didn’t find out where until we got off the plane.

      We also played games with the ChinComs…recognizing their morse ‘hands’. I used to try and vary my hand as much as possible so as to make it hard for them to recognise who was on the key.

    • Alan Johnson on July 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm
    • Reply

    The persons in the photo outside the Communications tent in the early days of Ubon (June 1962) are from left to right……Jimmy Braybrook, Don Sewell…and my self Alan Johnson

    • Jerry Musialowski on July 8, 2013 at 3:28 am
    • Reply

    Was at Ubon in 67-68 assigned to the crash fire crews next to the Aussie maint sheds. Had a ball with the Aussie fireman they were alot of fun to joke around with. Have some photos of your trucks and ours, was there when your 86 went down You guys are right, we went we served and now they try to deny benefits. Amazing how agent orange wasn’t there but nothing ever grew between the taxi ways and runway, remember the mosquito spraying….Still remember when you left, you guys painted a red Roo and RAFF on everything. My dad was in Australia before they went into New Guinea, it was the one place he always said he would have liked to gone back to.

      • Greg Bland (fire fighter) on December 23, 2017 at 4:16 pm
      • Reply

      Hi Jerry, Was a fireman at Ubon between Jul 64 and Jan 65. I served with a great bunch of USAF fireman during my time there. A Sgt McCoy was the NCO i/c at the time. Even though I was reasonably good mates with them the passage of 53years their names escape me. Could well be that you may be able to find out the names of them for me if you know where to look. Thanks heaps in advance.

        • Nick Giudes on January 10, 2018 at 4:36 pm
        • Reply

        To Greg Bland Re your message 23/12/17
        Re USAF Firefighters Ubon aug 64 to feb 65 It was Tech Sgt USAF Bob Call [as per his name badge]
        I have photo taken end jan 65 for farewell to Gordon Henerdine with USAF & Aust Firies .Sorry your not in it If you want a copy pls email me .
        Regards Nick

  2. Thank you for pointing out the error of the medals. I have corrected it.

    The error about the rear seat occupant is mine. I wasn’t paying attention to what I wrote. One of my friends was a bombadier flying in the rear seat of Ubon-based F4C’s. He never mentioned being an RIO, so before I correct it I’ll do some research to confirm one way or the other. But thanks for taking the time to point out these errors. As a writer, I do try to confirm everything, but occasionally it is easy to rely on memory and thus make mistakes.

    • Wayne West on January 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm
    • Reply

    In your illustration in the above text of the Australian Active Service Medal ,you are displaying the incorrect medal and riband,The one shown is only applicable for active service after 1975, also in your F4 crash description be informed that F4s didnt carry gunners in their rear seats,only RIOs (Radar intercept Officers) Whenever approaching the government, you need to supply facts without silly mistakes. Any how, good luck with your on going claims

    • greg martin on January 17, 2013 at 5:08 am
    • Reply

    Hi, I’m in a group on facebook called Ubon Vets. I was allowed to join because of my relationship to Denis Hardy who served there as an armourer. They are all Americans from the 8TFW. I’m not a vet but they ask lots of questions. One question is “are the Australians who served there being compensated for exposure to Agent Orange?” Can anyone tell me the answer? I know Denis ended up with a Ubon Service Medal issued to him not long before he passed away.
    Thanks
    Greg Martin

    • Heidi Abbey on November 20, 2012 at 10:19 pm
    • Reply

    Hello there,
    I am the daughter of Russell Abbey, known as ‘Hank’ who was in Ubon in 1967 as an Adgie. I was wondering if you knew him at all. He passed 5 years ago yesterday.
    I came across your website while researching PTSD.
    I hope all is well with you.
    I look forward to your response, if you find it appropriate.
    Kind Regards,
    Heidi Abbey

    1. Hello Heidi, sorry to hear that Russell has passed. I’m not sure if I met him or not…it’s so long ago and I’m terrible with names. If he was there in the first 6 months of 67 I would have met him.

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