Jed Hart's veteran story

Jerome 'Jed' Hart joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1965. Jed had just finished school and his brother had joined the year before.

After initial training, Jed went to sea. He served in the Malayan Conflict. Then he went to the United States to train as a pilot.

Jed's first posting was to the former Republic of South Vietnam with the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV). Jed flew helicopter combat assaults with RANHFV as part of the 135th United States Assault Helicopter Company. Jed gained 800 combat hours in Vietnam.

Jed said he was gripped by a sense of fatalism while serving in Vietnam. Accepting that he would die, he decided to live life to the fullest while he could. He was shot down twice and lost friends, and he had to adjust after macabre events.

Reflecting on his war experience, Jed expressed the opinion that 'No one can make war easy'.

It was a long time before Jed participated in Anzac Day activities or talked about the war because he wanted to forget the bad memories.

Jed felt particularly proud of all those with whom he served. While disappointed with the manner in which servicemen were besmirched by many protesters at the time, he bears no grudges, believing that the anti-war protests were well intentioned. He felt grateful that the Australian public had accepted and thanked Vietnam veterans since then.

When Jed left the Navy, he flew and instructed on helicopters in New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Scotland. He then spent 8 years with Shell International – flying in Brunei, managing flying operations and security in Peru, then becoming an aviation adviser in London.

Coming home to Australia after 20 years, Jed first joined BHP as aviation manager, and then founded Hart Aviation with his wife, which operated in 60 countries before they sold the business in 2013.

Vietnam

Transcript

Brother’s influence in joining the Navy

I grew up in country Western Australia, the youngest son of a clergyman. My father was Archdeacon of Bunbury in WA, so a fairly standard country school education, good schools and lots of sports and very good weather. I thought the whole world had good weather at that stage, there’s nothing like the weather in WA. So then at the age of 16, my brother, who was a year older, joined the Navy and that actually gave me the notion of following him into the Navy.

He joined what I think was the first of the supplementary list intakes in 1964, so a supplementary list midshipman, so destined to become an officer, seagoing officer in the Navy and I followed him a year later, exactly the same path, initially to be a seagoing officer, watch keeping in the Navy.

Getting hooked on flying

I thought I was going to be a watch keeper on ships and it started out that way and I'd been on minesweepers and destroyers, a frigate, the Derwent, and all of that was great, it was going along well and then I was posted to HMAS Melbourne, the aircraft carrier. I had a very good friend there, Jim Gault, who later became a captain in the Navy.

He had been a flight crew and seagoing officers, fish heads, as they were called, still are called were very disparaging of flight crew, the birdies, so I was banging on about how birdies were mad and they needed their heads read, it was a stupid occupation flying off aircraft carriers, and my friend Jim said, "Don't knock it, you haven't tried it "

So I said, "Righto, Jim, I'll go flying and I'll come back and I'll knock it. " And I took a flight in the observer seat of a Gannett, which is, actually faces rearward, you face towards the tail plane and you sit in that and you get shot off the catapult on Melbourne which is an amazing experience, just instant acceleration, and a violent thrust forward and the rumble of wheels across the flight deck and then suddenly you're in the air and you're flying and I was hooked from the moment of that cat shot.

As soon as we started blasting down, I thought, "This is really good. I'm enjoying this. " and we did formation flying, we did rocket runs, we did touch and goes on the angled flight deck and then an arrested landing and Jim was actually waiting for me when I got down. He said, "Well, what do you think, Jed? " I said, "Just get out of my way. I've got to go and write a letter. " and I wrote out my first application to be Flight Crew right then after that first flight, I just didn't want to do anything else, I was obsessed with becoming a naval aviator … I didn't think I was bulletproof and I thought, "I hope this is safe " because I'd been saying for about the previous year that it wasn't. So that thought did occur to me, but it was just such amazingly good fun.

Quitting smoking

I'd been in the fleet for a year on various ships and Melbourne being one of the last, and they'd sent us back and I was still a seaman, slated to be a seaman officer watch keeping on ships and they'd sent us back for a final buff and polish to HMAS Cerberus in Westernport and then we were to become sub lieutenants instead of midshipman and go out into the fleet but from Cerberus at that time they were running what they called a flight grading program, which was a group of guys who'd been accepted for flight training in the United States with the US Navy, Pensacola in Florida, and they had a guy drop out.

He liked the idea of being a pilot, but the actual business of being a pilot, he didn't have the aptitude and he didn't enjoy it. So he dropped out and I was right there on the spot because the flight grading was happening at Moorabbin. The aircraft that we were flying was the DHC 1 Chipmunk, a two-seater trainer. So that was the first aircraft I flew and a wonderful fully aerobatic aircraft.

We had an instructor, a lovely Chinese Australian guy, Roy Goon, and he was a real character, a very experienced pilot and one of the first things he said to me, saw me smoking a cigarette and he said, "Jed, you shouldn't smoke cigarettes if you're a pilot, it adds 5000 feet to your altitude. " I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but as far as I was concerned, anything that would help to make me a pilot I was going to do and I quit just cold like that and never thought about cigarettes again … it's oxygenation of the blood and clearly smoking inhibits that by coating the lungs and is the equivalent, if you're a heavy smoker, of starting out at sea level as 5000 feet and it's a drawback.

Training at Pensacola, USA

Pensacola was a huge training organization and the Australians were dropped in. We would have about a hundred flight students in a, I want to say in a month, some of the figures are a little bit hazy now, it's a long time back but the flight students were dropped in, we were kitted out with our uniforms. We did a six-week introductory course, physical fitness, and that sort of thing and then we went into the, straight into flying the T-34, which is the military version of the Gullwing Beach Bonanza.

That was a wonderful training aircraft, very, an excellent machine, again, fully aerobatic. We moved on from that to the T-28, very powerful, known as the Bearcat. Sort of the same. It's a poor man's Mustang, if you like, but a wonderful aircraft to fly. With that we did, learned formation flying, we did our instrument ratings and we also carrier qualified. We flew out into the Gulf of Mexico and carry qualified on the USS Lexington and that that was really exciting. It was wonderful.

Helicopter training

By the time you went to helicopters, you had, I'm guessing there were probably 175 flying hours or something of that order anyway and you had under your belt carrier quals, instrument rating, so you actually had a lot of ground school. Most of your grad school was complete except from for the helicopter-oriented stuff. You went to a place called Ellison Field in Florida and started out on the bubble Bell, what the military called the TH-13M in the civil world.

You call it a Bell 47. It's the same little helicopter they used in the Korean War and the designator Bell 47 is the year it was manufactured, 1947. So it's a pretty venerable helicopter and that was the first one that we flew. We went on after that to the S-58, which was the workhorse of the Marine Corps at the time, a much bigger machine … Every helicopter pilot has stories about the first time they learnt to fly helicopters.

You know, we'd flown fixed wing and the control movements on fixed wing are fairly positive, you know, you want to go right, you move the stick to the right, the wings go down and then you go to the right. Helicopters are not like that at all. The way that the instructors, or the instructor that I had did, he hovered the Bell 47 next to a fencepost and he'd put the right-hand skid and I was sitting on the right, the right-hand skid just next to a fencepost. So it was right there, about a foot away and that was fine.

He said, "Right, I'll give you the cyclic control first. " So you had that and you think, "Okay, well, that's good. " Then you'd start to drift and go a little to the left. You think, "Okay, we'll move it to the right. " Good, positive move and the helicopter would start darting across to the right, and you think, "Hell, I'm going to hit the fence post. "

You go back the other way. Before you knew it, you were doing these wonderful Shondells and parabolic manoeuvres that had no relationship to what you were being asked to do at all and just when disaster was going to strike and you could see the next trip was going to be into the ground, then the instructor would take it and by some osmosis, some magic, he would just take the controls, everything would settle down and the aircraft would just gradually go back to the fencepost and sit there.

It was the most infuriating thing you can imagine because he wasn't doing anything, he was just holding the controls, couldn't see any movement at all and that was the secret, you didn't move the controls, you just thought about where the helicopter wanted to be. Took a long time to get that. So you got the collective control next, which is basically up and down, the pedals, which is changing direction and the cyclic, which is left and right wing down and eventually you got the hang of it and you didn't think about or rather you didn't take positive charge of the situation, you thought about where you wanted to go, it just seemed to happen and that was the secret of helicopter flying, just think about where you want to be and, of course, much later in Vietnam when we were flying, you know, up to 140 hours a month, just a very, very heavy flying load, the aircraft became like an extension of your body, you could just fly and you thought, "I’ll just go over there and you went over there and that was, it was remarkable.

Limited knowledge about Vietnam

We weren't informed about the Vietnam War through the Navy, directly, though people spoke about it and occasionally, if a senior officer was addressing you, he'd refer to the Vietnam War. We also had quite a few Marine, particularly Marine instructors, some Navy instructors were Marine instructors who'd been flying Phantom jets and F-8 Crusaders and other aircraft in Vietnam, so we had veterans training us and for some of them it was, you know, a more relaxed, easy-going posting after a pretty heavy tour of duty in Vietnam.

So, we got news that way, so we were aware and those were the days of broadsheet newspapers and radio, much more so than TV and we were expected to keep abreast of current affairs. I guess the emphasis through the Navy was pretty heavily on the domino theory and combating communism and the march of communism through Asia and we pretty much all subscribed to that point of view.

Service in the Malacca Straits as compared to Vietnam

I was posted to HMAS Gull, which is a Ton Class Minesweeper, that's when I first went on patrol in the Singapore and Malacca Straits. I would say that the experience generally was of a very heavy workload, not the first time I'd had that, but we were ten days at sea and two days back in Singapore and the hours were long. We were watch keeping even as midshipmen we were keeping watches on the ship, four on, eight off, but in the eight off you had duties as well and it was pretty tiring.

There was some shooting but it was, generally speaking, by comparison to Vietnam, very low key, almost police action rather than, you know, a fighting war though there was fighting going on. So we would stop barter traders and other vessels going across the Singapore and Malacca Straits from Indonesia, smuggling arms and so on into Malaysia and personnel into Malaysia, but long hours, a lot of boredom and heavy workload, and then the delights of Singapore, you know.

As a, what was I then, 18 years of age, so, no 18-year-old with lots of money in his pocket turned loose in Singapore does anything sensible. So I had a very, very good time in Singapore and it was free world as opposed to Vietnam. You lived on base in an army camp which was a pretty harsh environment because it was just a big dust bowl and you're working so hard, really so hard, long, long flying hours, So it was a quite different thing and it was a shooting war and your friends were getting killed and that is quite different. The level of stress is quite, quite different.

Early training

I think the training was good. We did quite a lot of formation flying in Iroquois’ at 723 Squadron. The people that trained us were very serious about what they were doing and they wanted to give us the best grounding they could and, I think, did, but, you know, flying in formations of two aircraft down onto the green and gentle paddocks around Nowra, it just isn't the same and no way they could make it the same, you know.

If they'd had blaring rock music and started shooting off weapons, that might have been a little bit closer to the real thing. They sent us to Canungra to, with the Australian Army and we did the battle efficiency course there and that was good value. We left there very fit and, you know, a few army type skills which was good to have, gave you a bit of confidence in case you were shot down and had to walk out. So, yes, it was fairly good. My training was abbreviated because of Tony Huelin's death, so they needed to replace him in a hurry and I was available, so they shot me up to Saigon before my training was finished.

Arrival in Vietnam

Flying into Vietnam to go to war was a totally surreal experience, you're in the free world, everything was quite normal, driving around the streets, I left from Sydney, so I went out to Mascot, got on a Qantas jet. Who goes to war in a Qantas jet? I mean, but we did.

There were 100 army guys, mostly conscript, and I was the one Navy bloke because I was going in to replace Tony Huelin, a very good friend who I'd trained with in Pensacola, he'd been killed on active service in a helicopter crash and in Vietnam we landed at Tan Son Nhut and suddenly it was a totally different world, just a very crowded airport with transport aircraft, A-1 Sky Raiders heading off to bomb the enemy, helicopters everywhere, Chinooks and Hueys and there was a little gaggle of three guys, intercepted me and they had a sign saying Lieutenant Hart, three Americans, two spec fours and some other guy with them a little more senior.

And they pulled me out of the herd and put me in what they called a deuce and a half, which was a two and a half ton truck and I rode in the back because there was a US colonel in the front, and this US colonel said to the guys in back, said, "Boys, we're going down the road hot. Don't ask me for permission to fire. Just open up. " I thought, "This is not a good sign " and these two characters, as we drove down the road up to Long Binh and out to Bearcat.

I was very uncomfortable being on the road, especially after the briefing the Colonel had given them, these two told war stories the whole way. I won't go into the war stories, they were pretty gruesome but they were winding me up just as hard as they could, that was their sport for the day. So that was that was my first experience of Vietnam.

Dramatic welcome to Vietnam

On the second day, I was converted to type because the U-1H is a little different to the Australian Navy Iroquois and the third day I flew with Max Speedy, and that was during the Tet Offensive of 1969. It was a very busy time, the enemy were, we had North Vietnamese regulars in the South as well as the Viet Cong and they were having some success and they were very, very active and on that first day's flying we lost two aircraft in the particular landing zone we were flying into and after those events, which were pretty dramatic, there's a, you're just bombarded when you're in that situation as a new guy.

There's a VHF radio going, just a constant chatter, very crisp commands and responses, people calling and receiving fire. The light fire team rolling in and prepping each side of the landing zone or LZ, as we called it. There's the internal communication in the aircraft, very profane and a lot of derisive comments and jargon and, you know, constant chat. The M60 machine guns out each side of the aircraft, a very percussive sound that bangs away at the ears, so all of this was going on, and there was I.

At that stage, I had 320 hours flying experience and only 120 of that was in command, so I was pretty green and, you know, there I saw two aircraft shot down, not able to fly out of the landing zone, on fire, and the command and control aircraft gave the instruction to Max, who was flight lead, "Land short of the second burning aircraft " and Max, who'd had a fair bit of time under his belt in Vietnam at that stage, thought that was funny and he said, "Welcome to Vietnam, Jed " and that was my welcome to Vietnam.

Protection and being shot down

We had the two M-16s, machine guns in the aircraft and they came off their mounts so you could walk away with those. We had an Armalite submachine gun. We'd been trained on that. We'd been shooting the Armalite, and we each carried a 38 revolver, which we used to, when we flew, we used to rotate it around and place it in front of the family jewels, and that was our protection.

We had what they called a chicken plate which was a slide forward armoured plate on the pilot and copilot seat. So, yeah, and I think I'd be right in saying that most of our guys were shot down at one time or another. I mean, it sounds very dramatic but if you receive ground fire and perhaps it hits the transmission, the main gearbox of the helicopter or some other vital component and the oil runs out, you have to get on the ground quickly and that’s what happened …

I was shot down twice. The first time it was no big deal, it was malfunctions in the aircraft we received ground fire and probably snipped a few oil lines and the aircraft was perfectly controllable and just landed under power in the paddy and we were evacuated. The second time was a bit different because the engine cowling was actually blown off and that was a bit more scary, but, again, you know, we had the routine where you'd call going down.

We had chalk numbers. I'm not quite sure why they were referred to that way but we were and I, on that occasion I think I was Chalk 3 and just called, "Chalk three going down " and the trail aircraft was tasked with following any aircraft that was shot down. So we went down more or less under control and landed fairly heavily and stopped abruptly in a paddy and there was some thrashing of bodies and whiplash associated with that and then trail was alongside us within 3 seconds, just followed us down and that was our ride home and that's the way we did it … I have lost a tail rotor in a helicopter, that's a different thing but the tail rotor was still there, so the aircraft was under control, there were just bits falling off.

The gunships

We had the gunships which were the UH-1C or the Charlie model, and they had a Lycoming T53-11 engine which was arguably a little underpowered for the size of the helicopter. They loaded those gunships with all sorts of ammunition, M-60 ammunition, the 762-calibre ammunition, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, mini guns and those guys, when they took off, they were skidding across the perforated steel plate, the PSP, trying to get enough speed to get airborne to get translation on the lift and get airborne and it was often quite amusing watching them bouncing from helipad to helipad, trying to get into the air.

The Charlie model had slightly larger fuel tanks than the original design so they got into the air very heavy. We flew as command and control and flying the slicks in the flight, we flew the H model, hotel model, and that had the Lycoming 253-13 engine, which was 1400 shaft horsepower, I think, and compared with the 1100 shaft horsepower in the gunships. So we were better placed as far as power was concerned and we carried typically ten troops in the back and their gear and a crew of four, crew chief, gunner, pilot, and copilot.

Bearcat base

What can I say about Bearcat? It was a huge base. I don't know how many people were on it. I'm sure those stats are available but it had both US Army and Thai troops and it was a huge base surrounded by what they call a berm, which was, you know, bulldozed earth wall with watchtowers at different places then a cleared area of at least 500 metres around it so that there were fields of fire from the machine guns in the watchtowers and rather like a prison but the enemy did try and get to us quite frequently.

We were mortared often. It was not unusual at all to have the air raid siren go off and mortar rounds coming in and some guys got so used to it they'd just continue their normal business and we had a bunker there for a while until it filled up in the monsoon, but it was dusty and dry, except when it was raining when it was muddy and wet. It smelt.

The routine for going to the loo was what they called a four-holer, was a toilet with four holes. It accommodated four men at the same time and the reading matter was usually the Stars and Stripes, the US military magazine and you just sat, you know, side by side with the next bloke, which is an unusual experience when you're not used to it and then the product of that was burnt in big pits with diesel, they put diesel on top of it. So the whole of Bearcat smelt of this diesel and poo. So, not all that nice. You got so used to it you didn't smell it after a while but when you first went in there, yes, you smelt it.

A unit citation and pride in service

I think the surviving members of RANHFV are very proud of the fact that we won a unit citation for gallantry, one of the few unit citations that came out of that war and I think that really was won because we worked extremely hard. The motto of the unit was ‘Get the bloody job done’ so there was no bull, I mean, we didn't stand on ceremony, we weren't there to be pretty boys or do pin up posters for the folks back home or go into politics afterwards. Nothing like that.

We were really grinding it out, a lot of flying hours going very hard at the enemy and doing our duty and trying to do it in as honourable a way as possible, I think. I'm very proud to have served with our RANHFV. I think the guys that I served with are extraordinary and some of them suffered a lot and some of them died.

Australian and US interaction

I'd come from training with the US Navy, so it wasn't an alien concept to me. I know quite a few within the Australian Navy were nervous about that interaction. The truth was we fitted in very nicely. We all had similar attitudes of getting the job done and whatever it took to get the job done. We had a lot more flying experience than our American counterparts and I say that having arrived in country with 320 hours, which is not a lot, but our US counterparts who'd been through Fort Rutger and trained there in the US, in Alabama, they had even less and they didn't have instrument ratings.

They’d basically been taught to start the aircraft, shut it down, fly in formation, and, to auto rotate if, you know, they lost their engine or had an emergency, not a lot more. They were trained up to a point where they could become, as we call them, Peter pilots and then they would be trained in country and some of them went on to be exceptional, exceptional pilots but when they arrived in country, they had really very little experience.

The Australians tended to gravitate to the command positions, so we would be flight lead and command-and-control pilots and quite a few of our guys became gunship pilots and flight leads of them, of the gunship crew or the light fire teams. So it was rapid promotion, I suppose, within the time we were there and I, you know, I was 21 years of age, I turned 21 in Vietnam, but I was a command-and-control pilot responsible for a flight of ten and a light fire team of four, slogging away. The longest day I flew in the Delta was 13 hours, and I was the guy in charge, and I was 21.

Combat hours and fatalism

I did 800 combat hours. So a good month in Nowra would have been about 20 hours, something of that order and, you know, a big month in Vietnam would be 140, 150 hours, way outside any commercial limits. A commercial limit would be around 100 hours, and that'd be a very busy month … It showed, the guys were fatigued and it was cumulative and the longer you'd been without a break, the more tired you became.

But we, I mean, guys coped in different ways a lot like me, you know, I'd arrived in the middle of 1969 and I'd decided that I was going to be killed there, I couldn't see much prospect of surviving. So, my adjustment was to just accept that and say, "Okay, well, enjoy each day ".

And so we used to come back dog tired but then we'd party, you know, we'd drink and carouse and have a good time, then go and do it again the next day, up at five, quarter to five, airborne at 5.20 in the dark and down to the Delta for dawn and fly until dusk in the Delta and then come back.

Macabre sights and evacuating the wounded

I was walking down to the flight line on my second day in country, so I was walking down to do my conversion to the Huey, and there were a group of quite short guys, I could well imagine they were Asians coming towards us and I could hear them laughing and they were playing football and kicking the ball backwards and forwards and the guy I was with shook his head and said, "God damn Thais ".

I thought, "Why did he say that? Thais, yes, but why did he say that? Thais? " He’s shaking his head and when we got closer, a little bit closer, I realised they were playing football with a human head and they'd been out on patrol and they'd come back and they thought it was very amusing. So that was my introduction and, you know, the Thais, mainly Buddhists, believe in the continuous cycle of life and reaching a state of excellence over those multiple lives and, I tell you, some of these guys were right at the beginning …

People have asked me, "Did you become numb to what was going on around you? " But numb isn't the right word because you adjusted, and you became accustomed to what was going on around you. So what was going on around you didn't change, you changed, so became your new normal and it was very brutalizing.

When we flew our hash and trash flights, we'd be sent in sometimes to hot areas where there'd been a lot of people wounded and killed, maybe blown up with booby traps and so on, you'd go in under fire and the guys loading the aircraft would be under fire. So they wanted to get their heads down and they wanted to get you loaded and out of there as quickly as possible which is what we wanted. So they'd throw people into the helicopter, no stretchers, there wasn't time for any of that, this is in a combat situation just to get them out of the zone and they'd throw living soldiers who'd been wounded, and then dead on top of them so that you'd have just a horrible load.

And I can remember flying one load back to Bien Long and there was a guy whose head was, he was looking at me the whole way back, or most of the way back and he died on the way back and I could tell he was, he was, he wanted relief, you know, he was asking for help and I couldn't help him., I couldn't go back there, I had to fly the aircraft and he died on the way and he died with his eyes open, still staring at me. I’ve dreamt about that, still dream about it.

Contingent replacement

We went in as a contingent, so the whole, there was about 50 of us between the maintainers, admin staff and the flight crew. So we’d switch out basically in one hit, 50 in and 50 out. The Americans were replacing one by one, so as each man finished his tour they'd rotate out and a replacement would come in and our system of replacing by contingent, I think, was possible because of the way the Americans did it.

You had to have a core of people that knew what was going on and knew what was the way to conduct the war and they always had that because they replaced one man with another. We could work within that with a slight overlap and our guys got up to speed pretty quickly because of their flying experience and we got along well with the Yanks, we really did, some enduring friendships were formed there, go on to this day.

Commitment of the ground crews

I have so much respect for our ground crews. They, very often, they’d fly with the aircraft as crew chief or gunner and put in those long, same long days that we did and then they'd be responsible for pulling maintenance on the machine at night and, you know, we were putting so many hours on the aircraft that, you know, 100 hourly inspections or 25 hourly inspections could be almost every second day.

They just worked and worked and worked. We'd find them sometimes going down to the aircraft at, just after five in the morning in the back of the aircraft, lying on the aluminium deck, asleep and they'd flown back from the Delta the previous evening, pulled maintenance and then just didn't have the energy to go back to their hooch, they’d go to sleep in the aircraft and we'd tell them to take it easy and sleep until we got down to the Delta and then when we got down to refuel, we’d wake them up and they'd go to war.

An admirable enemy

They were a very admirable enemy. They were fit and motivated and they wanted us out of the country and that was the era of free fire zones, the B-52s were dropping tons and tons of bombs in the ten square kilometre zones and not all of that ordnance exploded and a lot of it found its way into booby traps. So when you went into land, you could never be sure if a little pile of straw was a little pile of straw, or whether it was a booby trap and when you blew the straw away it was going to blow up and, you know, damage the aircraft and hurt the people and then they had extensive underground foxholes, and they would appear out of nowhere, just pop up and they were well armed.

They used, typically used an AK 47 weapon was issued to them, an excellent Kalashnikov semiautomatic rifle and it would, you could get it dirty, wet, and it would still fire. So, I remember one day, they went to Vietcong school, we were told, and they were taught to lead helicopters so fire in front of them. I remember one day landing in a landing zone and seeing what I thought was rain in front of me. It was just splashing in the rice paddy in front of me and I drew it to the attention of the guys flying with and he called out, "We're under fire " and I looked left and I could see the bloke shooting and he pointed at the helicopter and he led by 15 degrees the way he had been taught he was shooting at the rice paddy in front of us but we were stopped, we were discharging our troops, so he got it completely wrong and I'm very grateful that he did because our guys cranked up their machine guns and we got his head down and flew away.

But the worst position in the flight was Chalk 3 because, that's the third aircraft in the flight basically and the first two would go over and that would get Charlie's attention and by the third aircraft passing over, he was ready to shoot and we had a lot of Chalk 3s shot down … It just takes a little while for a guy to get his weapon and cock it, aim, but if you're coming in to insert troops, you got to come in low, so you're a lovely big target, great big target …

It was one of our entertainments that when we were flying at night to watch the, Russian tracer is green, it's not red like Western tracer and we would watch the tracer fire at the flight coming up at us and sometimes it's quite a lot and if you can see it, it's fine because it’s not going to hit you … it's just a little green dot and it wobbles and then the wobble gets faster and then suddenly it shoots by it seems to accelerate and shoots by and, yeah, they'd shoot at us when we were flying at altitude, but they had very little success. We had one commanding officer was killed, actually, he was at 1500 feet flying and he, so unlucky, a round bounced off the seven-day clock and hit him right between the eyes and killed him. Very sad.

Noel Shipp

Shippy, I knew him quite well because we served on Anzac. Anzac was the training ship, so as a midshipman I was on Anzac and he was then a seagoing time, he was leading seaman. So we met there and I was very surprised to find him as a leading aircraftsman in Vietnam and I think he was very surprised that I appeared as a pilot, so I knew him quite well but they were, he formed part of a gunship crew and he was on the M60.

Not sure, as crew chief, I think, rather than gunner, but they were going in with full suppression, so he was firing his M60 and the flight crew were hit, I think with 50 calibre rounds and either killed or severely wounded and they continued their gun run on down and just flew into the ground and the aircraft exploded and Shippy kept on firing the whole way down. He must have known, he must have known that his flight crew were disabled but he didn't, you know, he didn't forget what his job was. He did his duty all the way down. A courageous man.

Pickpockets, Taipei, and the death of Bob Carvery

We had R&C, rest in country, which we went to Vung Tau and that was nice, that was good fun and I saw a kid there learning how to be a pickpocket. It’s the funniest thing in the world because his technique was to have a newspaper and then sort of bustle past you with the newspaper and pick your pocket underneath the cover of the newspaper and he was terrible at it, absolutely terrible, he failed and we laughed and patted him on the back and gave him some money. I think the money we gave him was probably more than he was ever going to make as a pickpocket.

That was R&C, we drank a bit and had a good time, shouted the odds. R&R, I went on R&R with an army mate from Nui, a bloke called Bob Convery, you know, we were good friends and we went to the Hot Springs District of Taipei with one thing on our minds, and that was a very good district for that one thing. So we had a lovely time and came back. It was five days. It was rather extraordinary to be plucked out of a war, sent to a quite idyllic environment with female company and then dropped back into the war again and, in Bobby's case, you know, he was fragged by his own men. He went back to Nui Dat, he only had a few weeks left in country and one of his guys rolled a grenade into his tent, killed him.

Command-and-Control flights

Typically, as a command-and-control pilot, you'd have a US Army colonel and his Vietnamese counterpart, an ARVN colonel in the back of their command console communicating with the troops on the ground. Then we would instruct the flight and carry out the pickups and the landings and you'd follow the enemy around.

You might start off with a particular target, and you might end up kilometres away having chased the enemy or decided the enemy weren't where you thought they'd been and trying something else. It's a bit like fishing going from one fishing hole to another.

Passengers

You had film crews and entertainment crews come through, and from time-to-time approved journalists and it was always welcome, it was a fresh face, someone from outside and generally those people were sympathetic in their approach and understanding. It was good. The entertainers were fantastic, you know, they really were and the journos, too, they had, sometimes, a lot of experience in other war zones, and they had a pretty good idea what we were in the middle of.

They were older than we were, so they had a greater perspective and I think that helped. We talked pretty freely with them and I have to say, you know, I talked earlier about black humour and coming straight from the free world I don't think we would have been very good company talking in jargon and just, I won't go into the black humour side of things because it doesn't relate well to the free world, but I think they understood all of that. They understood where we were in our lives and what we were going through.

Last day flying in Vietnam

I mentioned earlier that my adjustment was to decide I was going to be killed, so there was no point in sweating it or getting upset. Just live each day to the hilt and be grateful each day you landed safely. As you get close to the end, there's this little voice in the back of your head saying, "You're going to make it, Jed, you're going to make it. You're going to get through this. You're not going to be killed " and you try and bat it away because you don't want that hope, you don't want it to be a false hope and you've seen the dreadful things you've seen.

I had a good friend whose name was Martin and I'd flown with him and he'd just about made it and he got burnt to death and right near the end and that was terrible. So, yes, you start thinking that you're going to get out of it and the last four or five days, you don't have to fly is a general agreement that if you've only got a week left in country, the other guys are quite happy to pull a bit of extra duty and make you stay on the ground and we used to call that short, when you had a short number of days left and you'd wander around in a daze, you know, drinking alcohol and singing out, "Short " and telling people how lucky you were.

It's a strange state of mind. The last day I flew was actually the highest number of hours I flew in Vietnam. It was a 13-hour day, and that's a lot of flying time and in the last pick-up zone the flight was mortared and every aircraft flew out, there were no direct hits and that was just pure luck because they'd zeroed in on the PZ and we flew out and one after another the aircraft dropped and we lost seven aircraft out of ten and we picked the command and control aircraft, the gunships and the remaining three slicks picked up all the crews and we flew them back to Bearcat and sent Chinooks in to pick up the seven downed aircraft and that was my last day flying and after that, I was off the hook. That voice I thought had got it all wrong on that day.

Return home

We didn't have much exposure to the media while we were in Vietnam. We were aware that there were protests but it was, I guess our awareness was at a pretty low level. We were just fully engaged in what we were doing and we didn't think much about the protest movement and what was happening back home. It was curious, going back, you know, I'd been someone important in Vietnam, a command-and-control pilot, you know, in charge of flight operations and I certainly thought I was pretty important.

But you go back to the free world and you're nobody at all and not only that, you're some sort of pariah, not with everyone. A lot of people welcomed us back. No one thanked us. No one met us. We just flew back with the Qantas flight and stepped out of the airport and we were on our own, that was it, and we were not in good shape. There really should have been a debrief, we should have had some idea of what we were getting back into. I was spat at and that gave me some inkling of the sentiment.

The thing is that the there was an overreaction against the war but it was well intentioned. The people involved were certain that they were doing the right thing, stopping an unjust war, so, in time, it balanced out. It was difficult. Then when we came back, it was difficult, reading the newspapers and watching TV and hearing radio and being cast as, you know, child killers and murderers and things like that. We weren't. We conducted ourselves as honourably as we could but, you know, it evens out over time. We eventually were welcomed back and I've got no hard feelings with the exception of Jane Fonda, I haven't forgiven her, Hanoi Jane, but everyone else, no hard feelings.

"No one can make war easy "

I have a mate, a commando, who did tours in Afghanistan and he doesn't feel really that there's much understanding of what the guys there went through. I think there's more in the way of debrief and support now than there used to be. I think the bottom line is that no one can make war easy, no one can make it a non-traumatic experience, that just isn't possible because it is.

So you can debrief and you can help but it's going to be an ongoing requirement that's never going to go away. The guys that have been to war and have carried that load on behalf of this country are always going to need a hand.

The difficulty of post war adjustment

I shared a hooch in Vietnam with a friend called Tom Supple, and he and I did a road trip to Adelaide and that was quite good as a way to decompress but it took a bit of the steam out of our heads, maybe, but we were still, you know, a Vietnam state of mind. You can't just flip a switch and adjust. So, then, going back to the Navy, I had a ground role for a time and that drove me crazy.

What I really needed was another flying role, something to keep me busy … I was walking around with, I had the Borneo badges and the Vietnam colours, so I was walking around with, a lot more stuff on my chest than far more senior officers and oddly enough, that was resented, I think it was resented, and for those guys that had a pretty straightforward Fleet Air Arm career, I think perhaps, they were bit dubious about us coming back from Vietnam …

It's almost as if you speak a different language, in Vietnam we spoke in jargon that worked in that environment and you couldn't talk that way with the people back in the Mess at Nowra and you were also aware you didn't want to try and big note yourself or put yourself on some sort of pedestal and say, "Well, I know about warfare. You don't. It wasn't like that. " So you didn't want to talk about it. You wanted to hold it in and just appear like everybody else, except it didn't feel like that on the inside.

The importance of public thanks

For a long time I didn't march on Anzac Day because it brought back unhappy memories and things I didn't want to think about and then about 20 years after I came back from Vietnam, I marched for the first time and by then there was a pretty general acceptance that we'd done our duty and we'd fought for our country and we'd done what we believed was the right thing at the time. Whether the government of the day got it right was a completely different question.

It's an amazingly powerful thing to put your medals on, march in the street and have just average citizens clap and say, "Thanks, mate. Good on you ". or, you know, "Thanks for your service " picking up that American terminology, just those simple words of thank you. Incredibly powerful. I've been a speaker on different Vietnam Veterans Days, and I always try and make that point of how grateful servicemen, returned servicemen feel when they're simply thanked for what they've done and that's all you want, someone to say thank you, nothing more …

I'd just express my pride in serving with 135. I thought it was an excellent organization and with our RANHFV, I saw the efforts that men went to under very, very harsh conditions. The courage they exhibited, the sacrifices they made, all of those things. I think the way we reflect on those things on Remembrance Day, Vietnam Veterans Day, Anzac Day is a worthy thing to do. I really do.


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Jed Hart's veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/jed-harts-veteran-story
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