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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7867


Mr BALDWIN (4:30 PM) —Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day is 18 August, and services will be held around Australia throughout next week. With this in mind, I rise today to talk about a subject of national importance and one that is embedded deep within the Australian psyche. I am, of course, referring to the six Australian service personnel who were missing in action following the cessation of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam in 1973. Those men were Private Peter Gillson, Lance Corporal Richard Parker, Lance Corporal John Gillespie, Private David Fisher, Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver. I will be talking about this issue at greater length during a Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day speech in my electorate of Paterson next week. Today, I will focus on the discovery and identification of Flying Officer Herbert and Pilot Officer Carver.

The Vietnam War conjures up a variety of images in the minds of those who have read about it, lived through it or fought in it, yet exactly what defines the Vietnam War for most Australians is often drawn from a mosaic of images seen in films that attempt to depict or glorify America’s role in the conflict. The Australian experience in the Vietnam War differs from that portrayed in American period films—indeed, the experiences of those soldiers in Vietnam, both Australian and American, differed immensely depending on where they fought and when the fighting occurred.

The Vietnam War remains remarkably fresh in the minds of many Australians, and this memory is not just limited to army history buffs or those who served in Vietnam. Perhaps this is because, as former Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said:

The Army today has much to learn from the Vietnam years. It resembles much more closely the type of operations we have been conducting since 1998 than do the operations of the Divisions and Corps of the two World Wars. … Counter revolutionary warfare, counter insurgency warfare, low intensity conflict: the names may change but the method of fighting them does not.

Although the lessons learnt from the Vietnam War will certainly be played over in the minds of military strategists today, the sad and everlasting impression of the war has recently re-entered the hearts of all Australians with the discovery of the last two missing airmen from the war.

On 30 July this year, after extensive research, forensic investigation and many expeditions into rugged terrain, Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver were identified. Flying Officer Herbert was 24 years old when his Canberra bomber was lost. From Glenelg, in South Australia, he joined No. 2 Squadron in February 1970 and was the pilot of the ‘Magpie 91’. Flying Officer Herbert was a veteran of 198 operational sorties over Vietnam. Pilot Officer Carver was also 24 years old. He was the navigator on the ‘Magpie 91’ and had conducted 33 sorties in Vietnam. Pilot Officer Carver, from Toowoomba, in Queensland, joined No. 2 Squadron in September 1970.

Since the discovery of their aircraft in April, research teams have been working hard to identify the two airmen and close a long-open chapter in Australia’s military history. I would like to pass on my sincere appreciation to the RAAF investigation team, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the Army History Unit for their tireless work in discovering the aircraft’s location and identifying the lost men. I would also like to acknowledge the support afforded to them by former members of the North Vietnamese Army, former Viet Cong soldiers and local Vietnamese villagers.

The finding of these two airmen gives us the opportunity to reflect on how we treated our troops after the cessation of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam in 1973. Although Flying Officer Herbert and Pilot Officer Carver were killed in action almost 40 years ago, their rediscovery marks an appropriate time for all of us to remind ourselves of the importance of supporting our diggers before, during and after their tours of duty.

I began today by asking what defines the Vietnam War for Australians. For most, I believe it is defined by those not familiar with the Australian war experience in Vietnam. I believe that the discovery of Flying Officer Herbert’s and Pilot Officer Carver’s remains will go some way in redefining the Australian experience in the Vietnam War. The discovery of our last two diggers, who have been lost in the Vietnamese jungle for almost 40 years, is testament to the Australian spirit and the untouchable quality of mateship. Yet, as important as this discovery is for the nation’s conscience, the news of the discovery and identification of Flying Officer Herbert and Pilot Officer Carver will touch no heart more than those of the families of these missing airmen. It brings closure to a long and painful chapter in their lives.