In May 2008 Squadron Leader Warren Dale was among twenty six New Zealand Defence Force personnel recognised for their service in Vietnam at a ceremony at Defence House in Wellington. He served as an Air Quartermaster (later Air Loadmaster) aboard C130 Hercules transport aircraft on flights operating between New Zealand, Singapore, Saigon and Vung Tau in South Vietnam.
Squadron Leader Dale recalls his time in Vietnam as one that was extremely challenging physically and emotionally but not entirely without its highlights.
‘It was a time of contrasts; from seeing the mist still gathered just under the top of the jungle canopy as we flew low level over the Mekong Delta in the peace of the early morning just after dawn, to the busy, somewhat dirty day-to-day business of an operational airfield. The air and the ground would shudder with the thudding beat of dozens of Iroquois and helicopter gunships lifting off in streams for their morning missions,’ he said.
‘Getting to know our troops and gunners over the 2-3 days from New Zealand into South Vietnam was a highlight. Watching good, solid, quiet and determined New Zealand soldiers unloading their weapons, artillery and stores and going calmly about their business when we arrived was always impressive.'
‘We would sometimes lend the gunners aircraft ear defenders, for a few short months, as they looked to be better than the gear they had. Occasionally, we would collect the same people after their tour and remember each other. They were changed, but there was always a cheer as we lifted off for the flight home. Unfortunately, we needed to bring out some of them in their coffins which was a sobering reminder of the real war that our people were facing.'
Extract from Air Force News (Issue 93). Reproduced with the permission of Air Force News