Chapter 31

In the Air


Service Details

Vincent "Dinny" O'Brien was born Cowra NSW 1926 andfirst enlisted in the RAAF in July 1944. He transferred to the Permanent Air Force in1948. He was promoted to Sergeant Air Frame Fitter in 1954, commissioned in 1957 and waspromoted to Squadron Leader in 1970. He resigned his Commission for early retirement inSeptember 1977. His overseas service included BCOF - Japan, 77 Squadron Korea, MirageProject - France, 75 Squadron Malaysia. He was awarded Member of the Order of the BritishEmpire in 1972. In retirement since June 1983 he takes an active part in community and exservice activities.


Absolute surprise and disbelief greeted me at RAAF Williamtown onMonday 3 July 1950 when I was informed that I was posted to 77 Squadron in Japan. Indeed,I was more surprised to learn that a war had started in Korea and that we were going to beinvolved. My wife of ten weeks was not impressed with this news. However, before sherealized the magnitude of the situation I was gone, departing Sydney by chartered QantasDC4 6 July, arriving Iwakuni for lunch Saturday 8 July. So began my fifteen months tourwith 77 Squadron in Korea. On a rotational system, loosely employed, I served for varyingperiods at Iwakuni, Taegu, Pohang, Hamhung, Pusan and Kimpo. Most memorable of my manysojourns in Korea was the first one. This trip included three weeks at Pohang, thesquadrons move to Hamhung, North Korea, our evacuation from Hamhung to Pusan, promotion tocorporal and returning to Iwakuni on Christmas Eve 1950. This period of about eight weeksprovided sufficient discomfort, frustration and anxiety to last me a long time. Inadequateclothing and bedding gave little protection to combat sub-zero degrees temperaturecombined with working in snow, ice, wind and sleet. Fortunately however, the United StatesAir Force (USAF) provide us with winter clothing. The issue included sleeping bag, pilelined cap with flaps to cover ears, pile lined jerkin, nylon outer trousers and jacketwith hood, snow packs, ski socks, leather gloves with woolen inners and combat boots.

When the squadron was ordered to move from Pohang to Hamhung I wasgiven the responsibility of moving the airframe support equipment with four other fittersand a canopied three ton truck. The equipment included tent, poles, aircraft liftingjacks, spare wheels, brakes, hydraulic components, tool boxes, tow bars, etc. At thedeparture point we were assigned to a Fairchild C119 aircraft of Combat Cargo Command. Aswe approached the aircraft loading ramps a rotund, ruddy faced, cigar smoking crew chiefappeared to guide us aboard. Clearly he had reservations about us and our vehicle. Noidentifying badges or rank was worn by any of our crew as we were forbidden to disfigurethe US clothing, as we had to pass it to other members replacing us when we were rotatedback to Japan. Later, however, all squadron members received a personal issue. To add toour problems we realised that our truck would not fit into the aircraft cargo bay, as thecanopy was too high. This problem was quickly overcome when I directed that the tubularsupports be cut with hacksaws, and the canopy lowered to provide height clearance.Pre-flight briefing by the crew chief included: no smoking, seat belts to remain securedand flight deck off limits. Throughout the briefing the crew chief was wearing a Mae Westand parachute and smoked his cigar. To my query he informed us that as they normally didnot carry passengers, Mae Wests and parachutes were not available for us, nor were inflight rations provided. After about two and a half hours of discomfort in freezingconditions, we arrived at Hamhung. To subdue our hunger and anxiety in flight, we tookturns to sit in the truck's cabin and smoke cigarettes.

Our short stay at Hamhung, 19 November to 4 December, was virtually oneof survival. Aircraft unserviceability, together with increasing battle damage, ensured ahigh work rate over extended hours. Weather conditions were atrocious with the temperaturedown to 20 degrees below zero and strong wind blowing from the mountains.

Our day started pre-dawn sweeping snow from the aircraft with bassbrooms and finished long after dark, when rectifications, routine maintenance and battledamage repairs were completed. Throughout the day all squadron members operated as a team,helping each other to refuel, re-arm and repair aircraft.

At this stage of events no beer ration was provided for airmen. Whenthe order came to abandon Hamhung the squadron was a hive of activity and rumour. Thenight before we evacuated, four of us were speculating on the possibilities and feelingmiserable and apprehensive. Jim Lill, corporal electrical fitter, now retired squadronleader, announced that he had a bottle of rum which he had brought from Australia. Hesuggested this to be the ideal time to consume it rather than risk it falling into enemyhands, should the worst scenario occur. Agreement was unanimous, the deed was done andfour airmen, full of courage, enjoyed sound sleep on their last night in North Korea.

In retrospect, responsibility given to junior Non Commissioned Officers(NCOs) was far more extensive than that enjoyed by present day personnel. As an example,early July 1951 I was put in charge of an advance party of nine technical personnel tosupport the first Meteors to go to Korea. Four jets flew to Kimpo and we preceded them ina DC3 so that we were established to meet and service them. Our task was to maintain themfor about a week until the squadron arrived. At this time I had been a corporal for aboutseven months. American hospitality continued at Kimpo. On arrival a USAF 2ndlieutenant liaison officer met us. When informed that I was in charge he assumed that Iwas a sergeant, and I did not tell him otherwise. The weather was warm so I wore my shirtsleeves rolled up, so that only the top of my chevrons showed. This was a deliberate ployto confuse Americans and had been successful to gain entry to USAF Top Three Clubs(Sergeants Mess equivalent) in Tokyo when on R&R leave. The lieutenant provided mewith a jeep and suggested I collect "combat rations" for my crew. Despite beingunfamiliar with this ration I accompanied him to the supply section, where he made thenecessary authorization. To my surprise and joy the rations comprised 200 cigarettes,chocolate bars, gum, toothbrush and paste, razor blades, cigarette lighter, condoms etcfor each person. When asked the number of personnel in my crew I promptly replied twenty.To our delight double rations seemed an appropriate reward for being the first RAAF groundcrew at Kimpo.

Clearly one was much wiser after several periods in Korea. As aconsequence of this knowledge I took extra personal items to Kimpo for bartering purposes,including a bottle of Japanese whisky. One evening a USAF airman wandered into our tentlooking to buy alcohol. After some diplomatic dialogue he agreed to purchase my Japanesewhisky for $US10, with the proviso that I have the first drink. He made this requestbecause of rumours that coloured water and worse had been sealed in bottles and sold aswhisky. The quality of the whisky was so poor that I was obliged to drink half of itbefore he was convinced it was safe to consume. Of course I kept the $10.


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