Vietnam Vets Day: Nurse rescues orphans as plane explodes
HEADING down the runway with 81 war orphans on board just as an American plane explodes is something veteran Rosslyn Richards will never forget.
Looking back on her 34-year career in the Royal Australian Air Force as a registered nurse, Mrs Richards witnessed a great deal of carnage but being able to rescue those children, many only babies, was one of the highlights.
Then prime minister Gough Whitlam agreed to bring 260 war orphans back to Australia.
The Hervey Bay local was one of four nurses and medics who took part in Operation babylift in 1975. The American plane which was also part of the operation had 200 orphans on board, all of whom died.
"Before we left, we packed cardboard boxes with foam for the babies to be carried in," she said.
"On the day we were leaving, as we were heading to the Bangkok airport, we had five babies thrown through the car windows, for us to take."
Mrs Richards said the babies were loaded on to stretchers, four or five abreast, and were propped up so they could suck on their water-filled bottles as they were taking off.
Touching stories like Mrs Richards's will be shared among the veteran community today as hundreds commemorate Vietnam Veteran's Day, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
Mrs Richards had two stints in the Vietnam war, the first from 1970-71 and then again from 1974-76. She was based in Malaysia but would fly to Vung Tau every fortnight to pick up casualties.
"There they would be transported back to Malaysia to be reassessed and if needed we would make the 12-hour flight back to Australia," she said.
Veterans will march from the Hervey Bay RSL at 10.30am to Freedom Park for a commemorative service at 11am. Some road closures around the cenotaph will be in place until noon.
President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia Hervey Bay Sub-Branch Bob Taylor said a luncheon was being held at Hervey House at a cost of $20 per person.
He said the association was happy to announce that the cenotaph had been updated to include post-1975 conflicts.
"The cenotaph had not been updated since Vietnam," he said.
"After getting an okay from the council and organising a stonemason the association will unveil the plaques today. We will have the chaplain consecrate it during the service."