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Eric Easterbrook OAM

Eric Easterbrook OAM

Squadron Leader, Royal Australian Air Force


Leading Aircraftman Eric Clarence Easterbrook

No. 9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force
Service number: A224026
Rank on discharge: squadron leader
Honours/awards: OAM

"It was Christmas Day, 1970. We were up at Nui Dat and a bunch of us got together. Must have been 12 or 14 of us, all different ranks and trades. We got together and everyone pooled all of our parcels from home and had Christmas lunch together.

There was a bit of everything on the table; something for everyone and something contributed by everyone.

That’s a memory I always treasure."

In November 1970, Eric Easterbrook was an apprentice with the Air Force when he was posted to Vietnam as an armament fitter. He turned 21 in June 1971, halfway through his tour. 

“Like for a lot of young Australians in previous wars, it was a bit of an adventure,” Eric said. “But going to Vietnam as permanent Air Force, it was also what you were trained for. That was our job and we looked forward to doing the best we could.”

“Our main role was on the gunships with 9 Squadron based at Vung Tau,” Eric said. “But about every three weeks we’d spend a week at the forward rearm area at Nui Dat servicing the gunships as they came in and out.”

“We did three rotations: day crew, duty crew and forward rearm. On day crew, we were up at 6:00am. A vehicle would take us up to the airfield where we’d be servicing mini guns and rocket pods and M60 machine guns, and doing inspections on the aircraft that came in during the day. At about 4:30pm you went back, had a couple of beers in the Airmen's Club, went to mess, and then read or whatever.”

“On duty crew you got up around 3:30am. You’d do pre-flights on the gunships, making sure the circuits were right, the weapons were loaded and so forth. By 8:30am you were back at the living quarters having a few hours’ sleep.”

Eric said, “Sometimes we’d go to Back Beach and the Peter Badcoe Club to swim in the ocean or sit and have a beer, or you might just do some shopping in Vung Tau. Then at 3:30pm, you’d dress in your working gear, get a snack from the mess, and head to the hangar to do the after-flights on the helicopters coming back from Nui Dat.”

“You had to work through to get the aircraft serviceable for the next day, you might not finish till 2am. Then next morning, you’re up at 3:30am for duty crew again. You finished on Friday, had Saturday off, then you’d fly up to Nui Dat as the forward rearm crew.”

Eric said in the wet season every afternoon you’d get heavy rain. “Occasionally we’d service the aircraft in our GP boots and underpants. You left your shorts in the hangar, so you had something dry to put on. in those days there were no ladies in the squadron or even going to the frontline.”

There were no women in the squadron, but there were women in the Red Cross. “At the rearm area, we lived out of a tent and had an outside shower,” said Eric. “One day I was having a shower when lo and behold there was an American Red Cross Iroquois full of female nurses flying over. I got ribbed over that.”

Eric has fond memories of Christmas Day 1970 at Nui Dat. “We had a team of about 12 to 14 different trades, and we pooled all our parcels from home and had Christmas lunch together. There was a bit of everything on the table for everyone there.”

“The Vietnamese people in the Vung Tau area were very good. A lot of our service people helped the chaplains at the orphanages and that sort of thing,” said Eric. “One of my regrets was that I didn’t get involved in helping the community. Being young and silly, I went swimming and drank booze when I had days off.”

Eric said he was still pretty immature when he got home from Vietnam. “I got a bit more confidence, but I won’t say I matured.” 

“I got engaged a few weeks before I got notified of my posting. My wife was a trainee nurse at the time and every day in Vietnam I wrote her a letter,” said Eric. “I cheated a bit. If I was busy or maybe hungover, I didn’t write and some days I wrote two or three letters. So there was a letter for every day that I was in Vietnam.”

One of the highlights of Eric’s time in Vietnam was watching the helicopters flying into Nui Dat. “When there was a big operation on, seeing this huge wave of maybe 20 American and Australian Iroquois coming into the airstrip was an incredible sight.”

When Eric returned to Australia in November 1971, he said, “There was no one to meet me apart from a fellow with my name on a placard and a hire car. He took me home and dropped me off. I had two weeks’ leave then I went straight back to the base and continued work, the same as I’d done the day I left. On the base, maybe a quarter of the people had been to Vietnam, so it wasn’t something out of the norm.”

Eric said, “A lot of people had rough treatment when they came home, but I didn’t experience that at all. I had a brother-in-law who was at university with hair halfway down his back. He and his girlfriend were at various things with placards. My father-in-law was concerned that being the short-haired serviceman I wouldn’t appreciate what his son was doing. But I said, ‘that’s why we’re there, to protect people’s rights for freedom of speech.’”

“People need to accept what we did in Vietnam. We were professional service people, and we were well trained, and our government made their decision on the political climate at the time. Think what’s happening in the world now and what the price of freedom could be. We have to respect that we need a Defence Force, and we have to respect those people in the Defence Force.”