Flag flies again after 55 years

Fifty-five years after a 17th Construction Squadron flag supposedly ‘blew off’ a flag pole in Nui Dat, at the 1st Australian Task Force base in Vietnam, the flag was returned to its rightful home at Zabul Lines, RAAF Base Amberley, Ipswich, on November 14.

CAPTIONFrom left, Officer Commanding 17th Construction Squadron Major Lincoln Barbare, flag orderly Sapper Jack Miles, Major General Stephen Day and Squadron Sergeant Major 17th Construction Squadron Warrant Officer Class Two Taj Whelan with the returned flag at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland. Story by Captain Evita Ryan. Photo by Warrant Officer Class Two Kim Allen.

During the Vietnam War, 17th Construction Squadron was primarily located at Vung Tau and Nui Dat, where the squadron delivered engineering tasks, including base development, land clearance, bridge and road construction, and civic-action projects.

While celebrating the squadron’s 21st birthday on September 20, 1970, the squadron adopted an easily recognisable blue bear logo along with the motto ‘A little bear will fix it’.

Shortly afterwards, intelligence reporting indicated the North Vietnamese Army had issued a decree that anyone wearing the bear logo was not to be targeted as the squadron was highly regarded for delivering infrastructure in support of the people of Vietnam.

Fifty years later, Major General Stephen Day was taking a break while on duty in Longreach when he recognised the 17th Construction Squadron’s blue bear logo on the lapel of another customer in a pie shop.

“I noticed the little bear on his lapel and I was excited because I was at that time, and still am, the patron of the 17th Construction Squadron Association,” Major General Day said.

“I asked if he was from ‘17th’ and he admitted he was but he was a bit busy so that was the end of our conversation.”

A couple of years later, the former 17th Construction Squadron member, who served as a Lance Corporal with the squadron in Vietnam, approached Major General Day in Warwick, Queensland, after hearing he would be visiting the rural town.

“He came up to me in Warwick, gave me a shoebox with a flag in it and told me a story,” Major General Day said.

“The story goes: ‘One night in November 1968, the 17th Construction Squadron flag blew off the squadron’s flag pole at Nui Dat. Some months later, the flag was found between sand bags in 1st Field Squadron’s base. It was then smuggled to Vung Tau, then to Saigon, and then to Australia in 1969.”

In 2005, the flag was given to the former 17th Construction Squadron Lance Corporal by an old school mate of his who had served in 1st Field Squadron in Vietnam.

“He’s the bloke who helped the flag ‘fly off’ the flagpole,” Major General Day announced to the small crowd of current and former members of the squadron, who were invited to the commemorative parade alongside members of the broader 6th Engineer Support Regiment family.

“But now it’s time for the flag, which was placed in my care in the hope that it would find its way back home to 17th Construction Squadron, to be raised once again up the squadron flag pole,” he said.

Originally formed as an independent unit based at Kingsford in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in 1949, 17th Construction Squadron was brought under the command of 6th Engineer Support Squadron in 2003. In early 2017, it was relocated to purpose-built facilities adjacent to its sister squadron, 21st Construction Squadron, at RAAF Base Amberley in Ipswich.

Primarily consisting of members of the Corps of Royal Australian Engineers, the two squadrons provide vertical and horizontal construction and resource acquisition capabilities, including through the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program.

As the patron of the 1st Field Squadron Association, Brigadier Michael Say, who is also Head of Corps for the Royal Australian Engineers, offered his apologies to 17th Construction Squadron and the broader 6th Engineer Support Regiment family on behalf of the 1st Field Squadron Association.

“It’s fantastic to be here at 6th Engineer Support Regiment for this really significant activity,” Brigadier Say said.

“To see something that may have been acquired by former members of 1st Field Squadron returned to its rightful place here so it can be displayed as pride of place is an important mark in history.

“6th Engineer Support Regiment continually punches well above its weight across Army.

“It has an amazing reputation within Army, across the ADF and in the community.”





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