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Final flyover for Vietnam veterans

Aircraft took to the skies this week in a one-off Vietnam War veterans’ gathering at Hood Aerodrome.

Reunion organiser and veteran Ted Creelman said the reunion could not come soon enough and would be the only, and final, gathering after two years of covid-19 cancellations.

He said the veterans in attendance were a mix of Royal New Zealand Air Force [RNZAF], New Zealand Army, and Royal Australian Air Force veterans.

“I thought we better have a reunion before we all start falling over, I think we’ve lost four or five so far.

“We’ve never had a combined reunion before, so this was the last opportunity.”

Creelman said everyone at the reunion had been a pilot in the Vietnam War.

He said there were 16 helicopter pilots from RNZAF who served with the number nine squad in the Royal Australian Air Force, in addition to seven New Zealand Army pilots who flew in the Vietnam War.

“There are also 14 ford air controllers from the Royal New Zealand Air Force, they flew with various American units in Vietnam as ford air controllers.”

Creelman was a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot, serving for 12 years.

“The first few helicopter pilots went up there for six months, and the rest of us did a 12-month tour of duty up before we came home.”

New Zealand History said more than 3000 New Zealand military and civilian personnel served in Vietnam between 1963 and 1975.

Thirty-seven men died while on active service and 187 were wounded. Two civilians serving with the surgical and Red Cross teams also lost their lives.

Creelman said he had lost a close friend, another pilot who was on his way to fly in the Vietnam War.

He said his friend Bill had been the only Maori helicopter pilot in the world before he had died.

“It was unfortunate, we actually visited his gravesite in Hawke’s Bay on the way here.”

Wings Over Wairarapa ambassador Ron Mark said as a patron of the New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Association, it was an honour to play a part in hosting the Vietnam pilots who, 60 years ago, answered the call to serve their country in an unpopular war.

He said it was men of that era who trained thousands of other young soldiers, like Mark.

“Many of them are highly decorated and ironically it is some of these same pilots that I later served with myself in Egypt in 1982.”

Mark said his experiences were minuscule compared to theirs.

Creelman said some of the highlights of the Masterton reunion was a service held at Queen Elizabeth Park cenotaph, and seeing the vintage aeroplanes at Hood Aerodrome was the icing on the cake.

“And the helicopter flying over, it was brilliant to see that happen as well.”

Creelman said the reunion had triggered many memories for the veterans, and they relived a lot of them during the trip.

He said he was pleased to have been able to share memories and conversations with a group of good friends.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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