Telling the history of Australians serving in our defence forces through our veterans’ experiences.
Neil Ralph (Royal Australian Navy), Helicopter Pilot
Neil Ralph served with the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam. After the war he continued a distinguished career with the Navy.
2 min 19 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs
In 1967, the Royal Australian Navy assembled a new helicopter squadron for Vietnam "" the RANHFV. The flight commander was Neil Ralph.
"We didn't know much about Vietnam and we didn't know much about the war. But, we had to come up to speed very quickly."
The Australians were attached to the U.S. Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company. The American commander had already decided on a name for their squadron - the EMU Squadron.
"The colonel, who was the commander, he told me about the emu "" 'EEMOO', and he said, 'We were looking for a fast, aggressive bird.' That's fine. And I said, 'The only thing is it doesn't fly.' 'Oh.' Anyway, that was glossed over.
Together with the 135th, the Australian pilots flew hundreds of missions, dropping troops into battle, often under fire.
"It's a very vulnerable situation, it's the most vulnerable when the formation of 10 is coming in to land, just before the touchdown and the guns stop, the door guns stop, that's the most vulnerable time. The troops get out very quickly, it's a matter of seconds and they're out. And once that's happened, off goes the formation.
Well they're more vulnerable to ground fire in the air, ten feet, twenty feet, 'Cos they make better targets there, than they are on the ground. But mind you, I mean they couldn't miss on the ground either."
The RANHFV was so successful as a unit that the USAF decided to award them military honours. There was just one problem.
"The American 1st Aviation Brigade commander called me up and said, 'Now Ralph, you get your troops into that thing because I want to pin medals on their chests.' And I said, 'But we're not allowed to accept them.' 'Cos that was the rule. 'I'm going to pin them on your chest and if you don't like it, put 'em in your pocket!'
Anyway they were that gung-ho, they were really good and they thought a lot of us and we thought a lot of them. And as one of my colleagues said, 'We were trained to do it and we did it.' And I think that's the attitude most people would take."
At the end of his tour, Neil returned to Ship's duties aboard HMAS Sydney. He would go on to become an admiral in the RAN, leaving the war behind.
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