RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

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The Repatriation of
Flying Officer Mike Herbert and Pilot Officer Bob Carver

FLGOFF Mike Herbert (Pilot)PLTOFF Bob Carver (Navigator)2 Squadron RAAF Crest

Introduction

The caskets of FLGOFF Mike Herbert and PLTOFF Bob CarverThe caskets of FLGOFF Mike Herbert and PLTOFF Bob Carver being ceremonially transferred from the C130 that had brought them from Hanoi to the tarmac at RAAF Base Richmond.Monday 1st of September realised a sight that most RAAF Vietnam Veterans, especially those who had served with No 2 Squadron, never expected to see; the caskets of FLGOFF Mike Herbert and PLTOFF Bob Carver being ceremonially transferred from the C130 that had brought them from Hanoi to the tarmac at RAAF Base Richmond. Along with the dignitaries, honour guard and former squadron members crowding the tarmac to witness their return and resplendent in its operational paint scheme, was the sole surviving flying Canberra (now operated by the Temora Air Museum).

Thanks to the initial inspiration and dedication of LTCOL Jim Burke AM, MG and his team at “Operation Aussies Home” and finally with the assistance of RAAF and other specialists using both modern equipment and painstaking hand by hand search, the wreckage of Magpie 91, lost in flight after completion of a bombing sortie on the night of 3rd November 1970, was located and the remains of Mike and Bob recovered. Testament to the reputation of Australian forces in Vietnam, the search teams were assisted by local villagers as well as Vietnam Government agencies. That Government also expedited the return of the remains, including a formal ceremony at Hanoi where the two caskets, accompanied by an RAAF honour guard and relatives of Mike and Bob were reverently placed aboard the RAAF C130.

Following the formal “Repatriation Ceremony” at RAAF Base Richmond, a ceremony which had previously been conducted for each of the four Army MIAs that “Operation Aussies Home” had located for return to Australia (an enormous feat), Mike and Bob were accorded funerals with military honours. On Thursday 3rd September, Bob was interred at Toowoomba (Queensland) following a church service attended by hundreds of relatives, friends, former colleagues and current members of No 2 Squadron. A solitary F111 passed overhead in a final salute.

Mike was accorded a similar funeral service in Adelaide on 7th September, before a private internment. The Archbishop of Adelaide conducted a Pontifical Celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Church of St Francis Xavier, attended by the SA Governor and Premier, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Air Force as well as hundreds of relatives, former squadron colleagues and Vietnam Veterans. With flags throughout the City of Adelaide at half mast, Mike’s cortege left the Cathedral escorted by an RAAF honour guard and band with veterans and students from his former school (Sacred Heart College) lining the roadway as a solitary F111 passed over in salute.

After nearly 39 years together as MIAs in a foreign country, they are now at home and at rest within the care of their families!

Operation Magpies Return — An Outstanding Success

Air Marshal M.D. Binskin: Chief of Air Force
Air Marshal M.D. Binskin: Chief of Air Force
The historic repatriation of Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver on 31 August 2009 marked the end of an era for our Air Force. Michael and Robert were the last ADF members listed as Missing in Action from the Vietnam conflict and returning them to their families has finalised our involvement with the Vietnam War.

This outstanding result was achieved through the exceptional leadership and professionalism of our Air Force men and women with a massive team effort from a large number of people from the Australian Defence Organisation. The Army History Unit, in particular Major Jack Thurgar, conducted the initial investigation into the disappearance of Canberra bomber A84-231 and succeeded in locating the crash site in April this year. Their investigation was first rate and they found the proverbial needle in a haystack. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation provided crucial technical support in refining the area of interest for the investigation in Vietnam. Our Air Force-led team did an outstanding job of excavating the crash site (to recover the remains of the crew) under harsh conditions in thick jungle in an extremely rugged and remote area. Designated Operation MAGPIES RETURN, the planning and logistics for this operation was huge and showed unparalleled commitment to excellence and attention to detail.

The subsequent repatriation involved a large number of Defence personnel and organisations and its success significantly enhanced Air Force’s reputation within Australia and internationally.

I am extremely proud of all of you; we have fulfilled our obligations in Vietnam and you have yet again shown all Australians what we are capable of — regardless of the task.

M.D. BINSKIN
Air Marshal
Chief of Air Force

21 September 2009