Life at high altitude
At IRT we are celebrating our 50th anniversary and are sharing our residents’ and customers’ stories from 5o years ago.
Remembrance Day, on 11 November, marks the anniversary of the Armistice which ended World War I in 1918. On this day, at 11am, Australians observe one minute’s silence in memory of those who died and suffered in all wars.
IRT Woodlands resident Dick Marman shares his story about life 50 years ago and serving in Vietnam.
Learning to fly helicopters in preparation for his operational tour of Vietnam was how IRT Woodlands resident Dick Marman spent most of 1969.
Based at the former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Fairbairn in Canberra, Dick was part of No 5 Squadron. Prior to that he had been flying heavy transport planes.
“I was doing my training in the autumn of 1969 through to early 1970. Landing, taking off and hovering were what you had to learn. But once you can do it, it’s like riding a bike – you don’t forget.”
When flying helicopters around the training area, they had to be mindful of wedge-tailed eagles. “They could be quite aggressive and sometimes tried to attack your helicopter.”
Dick was 21 years old at the time and has fond memories of the Fairbairn RAAF Mess. “It was a lovely place with open fire places.”
He also describes Canberra as a tiny town in 1969. “The big expansion didn’t happen for another three or four years.”
He remembers driving to Majors Creek outside Canberra when the movie Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger, was being filmed.
Dick also vividly remembers watching the moon landing on the Mess TV while based at Fairbairn.
He completed his training in a helicopter that was used in the Battle of Long Tan. The training helicopter was eventually put out of service and left in an aircraft hangar. However years later it was restored and presented to Caloundra RSL – where Dick is a sub-branch member – and the helicopter was erected in the memorial garden beside the club.
“There was a big dedication ceremony attended by Sir Angus Houston and many other 5 and 9 Squadron veterans,” he says.
This year the producers of the film Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan asked to use the helicopter for the movie. So it was hoisted onto a truck and taken to a Gold Coast film set. Dick took up the offer of going to watch the helicopter scenes being filmed.
“It was done in a massive warehouse,” Dick explained, “and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
In May 1970 Dick was posted to 9 Squadron at Vung Tau in South Vietnam where he worked with Australian Army units, including the SAS. However disaster struck two months later when he was serving as co-pilot on an operational chopper mission. The chopper crashed and exploded on impact.
“All four crew members were badly burnt and one of our crewmen sadly died ten days later. I was evacuated to 6 RAAF Hospital at Richmond for skin grafts to 30 per cent of my body. I was hospitalised for nearly three months. But it took a lot longer to recover from the accident trauma.”
Dick didn’t return to flying helicopters, but was posted back to heavy transport planes.
He met his future wife, Judy, in April 1971 at Richmond during the RAAF’s 50-year anniversary air show. They were introduced by Judy’s sister Kay who was serving as a nursing sister at 6 RAAF Hospital during Dick’s recovery. Judy and Dick have twin daughters, Sally and Elizabeth.
Dick left the RAAF in 1975 to continue a rewarding flying career with Ansett Airlines and later the Singapore Flying College.
In 2007 Dick retired from aviation to embrace his creative side. He completed a diploma of visual arts and a degree majoring in graphic design and creative writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Today he enjoys writing and illustrating, with over a dozen published works including a series of adventure novels entitled The McAlister Line.
He is also a ukulele enthusiast, conducting classes for IRT Woodlands residents and the Sunshine Coast U3A.