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, in November.
During the Vietnam War, 17th Construction Squadron was primarily located at Vung Tau and Nui Dat in Southern Vietnam, where the squadron delivered a range of engineering tasks, including base development, land clearance, bridge and road construction, and civic action projects.
While celebrating the squadron’s 21st birthday on 20 September, 1970, the squadron adopted an easily recognisable little 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 in central Queensland when he recognised the 17th Construction Squadron’s little blue bear logo on the lapel of a 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 ‘17’ and he admitted he was but he was a bit busy so that was the end of our conversation,” he said.
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 that he would be visiting the rural city.
“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, invited to the commemorative parade alongside members of the broader 6th Engineer Support Regiment family.
“But now it’s time for the flag to be raised once again up the squadron flag pole.”