Echoes of the past over Iraq
4 May 2017
Number 2 Squadron has commemorated the 50th anniversary for the commencement of Canberra Bomber operations in the Vietnam War during combat operations over Iraq and Syria.
The anniversary, marked on April 23rd, was made more significant by the presence of an officer serving with the E-7A task element who has a family link to 2 Squadron’s Vietnam deployment fifty years ago.
FLTLT Shelton is currently deployed as part of Operation OKRA in the Middle East Region as an Air Battle Manager with the E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft.
The anniversary gave him an opportunity to reflect on the merging of history between that of the Squadron and that of his family.
John Raymond Shearer, FLTLT Shelton’s grandfather, was posted to 2 Squadron as a Canberra Bomber engine fitter and deployed to Vietnam in 1967.
As a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), he left behind a wife and five daughters, the youngest being FLTLT Shelton’s mother, who was just two months old.
“He arrived in Vietnam on 19 April 1967 and stayed until 22 March 1968.” FLTLT Shelton said.
Completing a total of 339 days in-theatre was much longer timespan than that experienced by many Australians deployed today.
“My grandad had previously left the Air Force to begin work as a farmer and start a family,” FLTLT Shelton said.
“When he got news that the Vietnam War was declared, he re-enlisted and was posted to 2 Squadron in Amberley, Queensland.”
During LAC Shearer’s time in Vietnam he was known to everyone as ‘Ray’ or ‘Grandad’ as he was over 40 years old and an LAC.
“His deployment to Vietnam was very different to today’s operations,” FLTLT Shelton said.
“They had many more aircraft in-country and flew more sorties during the strike bombing days than we do now in the Air Battle Management chapter of 2 Squadron’s history.
“The Squadron deployed to an operational USAF base at Phan Rang, however they had to begin construction of their own amenities including pathways, bunkers and messing.
“Fear of attack was constant and squadron personnel were required to contribute manpower to airfield defence as well as their primary role.
“I have heard stories and memories of frantically loading magazines inside the hangars, rocket attacks, catching saboteurs attempting to enter through the fences and minor skirmishes, and he was there during the enemy’s Tet offensive.”
While the Vietnam-era personnel worked hard there was still an opportunity to unwind on the Vietnamese beaches during R&R.
The social club provided boats and fishing rods for use, and the Bar was always a favourite to relax in..
FLTLT Shelton said it was an honour to be serving on operations in the same squadron 50 years on.
“It was 2 Squadron efforts during the Vietnam War that make it the most decorated Squadron in the Air Force today,” FLTLT Shelton said.
“They were awarded the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and United States Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat V Device.”