Sub-branch president proud of his service

April 25, 2018

Jerilderie RSL Sub-branch president Laurie Blackmore uses his model of an Iroquois helicopter to show where he used to sit during his Vietnam War service.

Laurie Blackmore looks back with pride when remembering his service to his country.

The Jerilderie RSL Sub-branch president served in the intelligence corps during the Vietnam War.

He was conscripted for National Service and was in the army from October 1, 1969 until September 30, 1971.

Laurie spent over 12 months in training, including basic training, at Puckapunyal in Victoria and Woodside, South Australia before being deployed. He said it was a ‘‘physically intense start’’.

‘‘I didn’t have a problem with having to compulsorily serve, it was the law of the day,’’ Laurie said.

‘‘You just had to cop it and make the most of it.

‘‘I was there for 12 months and politely declined to serve an extra three months.’’

Laurie was stationed at Nui Dat and was required to collect and collate information in the aerial intelligence unit including talking to local people and trying to find out what was happening with the enemy.

Most of his jobs involved aerial photography, map distribution, film developing and operating a ‘sniffer’ which locates pollution particles in the sky.

‘‘The enemy was usually underground in a massive network of tunnels and would stay there for a very long time. Eventually they had to eat and cook and all they ate was rice.

‘‘They couldn’t keep the smoke from the fire underground so they needed to release it and it was my job to try and work out where the smoke was coming from.

‘‘There was often a small hole to let out the smoke. I would fly no higher than 30 metres and use the ‘sniffer’ machine to detect the smoke.

‘‘It was a American machine, a very basic big metal machine with a couple of dials,’’ Laurie said.

He would fly in an Iroquois helicopter, also known as a ‘Huey’, a model of which he still proudly owns today.

Laurie would be in the chopper three times a week, sitting between two machine guns. He said he always felt safe due to fact they wore flak jackets and the enemy didn’t want to give away its position.

‘‘The difficulty was the sniffer couldn’t tell if it was smoke, dust or exhaust fumes,’’ he said.

‘‘However, usually they would send me where they thought the enemy was. Most times you would get some readings.’’

Until the Iraq War in 2003, the Vietnam War was considered the most controversial modern warfare.

Lasting just under 20 years, over 1.8 million people were killed including 600,000 civilians and the conflict led to the first big anti-war movement across the USA and Australia.

Unfortunately for many Vietnam veterans, they were not given a hero’s welcome home like their fellow World War I and WWII Diggers.

Laurie said he was lucky enough to be supported by the Jerilderie community.

‘‘I understand the argument the anti-war lobby made but they targeted the wrong people. They went after the soldiers and not the politicians.

‘‘But no-one has ever come up to me and said ‘I was one of those in the anti-war movement and I’m sorry’.

‘‘Just through the number of people who attend services now, I don’t think you need to push Vietnam (recognition).

‘‘I think people realise that we were there and we did our job just the same as World War One and Two and Korea (soldiers).’’

The 68 year-old also still has a love for helicopters, recalling a touching moment from 1992.

‘‘I attended the Vietnam memorial opening in Canberra along Anzac Parade.

‘‘During the national anthem the military, being as precise as they are with their timing, started flying helicopters over the procession. I just had to stop singing, otherwise I would have broken down and cried.’’

Laurie will be marching today at 10am with his 11 fellow Jerilderie RSL Sub-branch members.

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