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It was time to remember.
More than 30 members from the No. 2 Squadron Association gathered at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley in Queensland to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and tour a facility that converts Boeing 737s into Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft for the RAAF.
The August reunion marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the RAAF’s active role in Vietnam. The Australian veterans reminisced about the history they helped create during a heartfelt memorial service, tour of the Amberley Aviation Heritage Centre and an up-close look at the Wedgetail aircraft.
For many of the No. 2 Squadron veterans, it was their first visit back to their home base in four decades and a chance to see how their squadron has advanced since they proudly served their country.
Greg Weekes, 2 Squadron Association president and retired group captain, marveled at the changes to the base, particularly in the last six years.
“The world moves on and the Australian Air Force continues to evolve and become more high-tech and more capable,” Weekes said.
The No. 2 Squadron, which flew Canberra Bombers during their 1960s Vietnam deployment, was re-formed in 2000 and now supports the RAAF’s advanced surveillance capability based at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales.
“To see the new Canberra gradually come to fruition, it’s wonderful, and the people involved are remarkable.”
The veterans were given a first-hand look at a 737-based Wedgetail, recently converted into a military platform by Boeing Defence Australia employees at Amberley.
Ben Storer, Boeing’s Wedgetail program manager, says he learned a great deal from the veterans, who saw their legacy as a squadron mature through the visit.
“I think the visiting veterans appreciated the opportunity to see the new role the squadron plays in Australia’s defence,” Storer said.
From 1967 to 1971, the squadron flew almost 12,000 continuous bombing missions throughout the Republic of South Vietnam. It lost two aircraft, and seven names were solemnly added to the squadron’s roll of honour.
Boeing’s heritage companies are linked to Australia’s legendary bombers, which were built by the Government Aircraft Factory in Melbourne. The manufacturing facility was renamed Aerospace Technologies of Australia and later became Rockwell Systems Australia, which was acquired by Boeing Australia in 1996. Given the long history, the Boeing Paint Shop was only too happy to assist the Aviation Heritage Centre with the restoration of a Canberra Bomber, now on display in the Amberley memorial garden.
According to Weekes, commemorating Vietnam Veterans Day was a personal opportunity to remember time served for Australia.
“To us, it’s purely focused on our own campaign from our own era, and so for those guys, it’s a lot more personal and I think they appreciate it a lot more,” Weekes said.
After pausing to honor mates who never returned and all who served with distinction, the veterans were given the opportunity to see restoration efforts of a second Canberra Bomber during a unique visit to the Heritage Centre’s restoration workshop.
“To see the new Canberra gradually come to fruition, it’s wonderful, and the people involved are remarkable,” said retired armament fitter Roy ‘Jock’ Folan.