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ODG / DDC assist in finding Australian soldiers MIA in Vietnam


Operation Aussies Home (OAH) today announced it had handed over to Australian authorities for finalisation the case of two Australian soldiers missing in action in Vietnam since 1965.

A volunteer team from OAH has unearthed human remains and artefacts in on old battlefield north of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The team from OAH, Vietnam veterans, worked the site over the past four weeks and on Tuesday April 17, 2007 uncovered the remains of what is thought to be two people buried in a makeshift grave.

OAH leader, retired infantry Lt Col, Jim Bourke said artefacts discovered in the grave strongly indicated the remains could be those of soldiers Lance Corporal Richard Parker and Private Peter Gillson who were killed on November 8,1965 and their bodies not recovered.

“We have notified the nominated representatives of families involved about our find and advised them that Australian and Vietnamese authorities will formally identify the remains,” Mr Bourke said.

“We are advised the Australian government is putting together a team, including forensic specialists, to examine what we have recovered and to excavate the site.”

“We are confident, this brings to a conclusion a case that dragged on for more than 40 years,” Mr Bourke said.

Four years ago, Operation Aussies Home began serious investigations amid scepticism from the defence bureaucracy and a major ex-service organisations.

“But our own persistence, the support of many individual veterans and generous financial assistance from private donors eventually got us to a point where the evidence we had was so substantial the Minister Assisting Minister for Defence, Mr Bruce Billson gave us financing to carry out this final phase of the project,” Mr Bourke said.

Central to the success of the search was the use of two high-tech ground penetrating radar (GPR) provided by Canberra-based Diverse Data Communications and The Australian National University.

The volunteers supervised a team of local workers to clear vegetation and rocks from more than 4000 square metres of the hills side so that the GPR could be used to identify possible grave sites or former weapon pits; the two were known to have been buried in a weapon pit.

A mechanical excavator was used to dig more than 30 separate holes in a bid to find evidence of the pits and hand digging was used in those areas where anything of interest was turned up. A number of other likely areas identified in May 2006 were also excavated.

“As the team worked through the last pit where we found the remains, the diggers constantly whispered to the two men buried there, telling them they were now finally coming home,’ Mr Bourke said.

“Vietnamese workers – without whom we could not have completed this huge task – laid incense and fruit by the grave site and said prayers in a Vietnamese custom which truly touched us all,” Mr Bourke said.

“This is an issue that goes much further than just the families of those who went missing.”

“Many former comrades have carried the failure to recover these two men with them since 1965 and have been counting the days since,” Mr Bourke said.

“All members of the Battalion at the time felt the loss – it was as if a huge black cloud hung over us after that day in November 1965.” He said.

Vietnam veterans in the team were leader Jim Bourke of Melbourne a two-tour veteran who served in the same battalion at the time they went missing, two-tour veteran, former Royal Australian Engineer Warrant Officer, Peter Aylett from Brisbane who supervised the search program and Sydney-based two-tour veteran Walter Pearson who acted as interpreter and liaison officer with local authorities.

Former Army Reserve officer David Thomas of Nelson Bay supervised the excavations. Sydney lawyer Ray Latimer and Diverse Data Communications’ GPR Operator Jeffery Wullaert of Canberra did the final painstaking digging work to unearth the evidence.

Paul Brugman from the Australian National University’s School of Asian and Pacific Studies and Jeffery Wullaert of Diverse Data Communications operated the radar machines and did the data analysis.

Six Australian servicemen were killed in Vietnam and their bodies not recovered. A RAAF bomber crew and an SAS trooper remain not fully accounted for.

In April 1971, a MEDIVAC helicopter crewman was killed in a crash in hills outside Vung Tau south-east of Saigon.

Last month, on 21-23 March, OAH assisted a Department of Defence forensic investigation of this case. The Minister, Mr Billson is waiting for the report of the investigation.

Operation Aussies Home expressed its thanks to Queensland businessman Mr Paul Darraouzet for his vital financial support and to the Minister Mr Billson, the first Minister to seriously pursue the issue of Servicemen missing in action in Vietnam.

OAH also thanked all the individuals, veterans and non-veterans, who gave encouragement and support throughout this search.

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