Riverland-born Murray Bridge resident Mick Loeckenhoff has spent much of his life fighting for recognition for his service in the Vietnam War.
This Friday he will receive some due recognition as he walks at the front of the Vietnam Veteran’s Day march through Murray Bridge, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Loeckenhoff left highschool at the age of 17 and joined the Australian Defence Force. He started as a cook for the Airforce, worked for 24 years in the service and left as Warrant Officer in a catering officer role.
Initially deployed to assist Thailand in defending against communist insurgents and terrorists from neighbouring countries to the East, the RAF Ubon base became a de facto partner to the direct support of USAF operations into North Vietnam and Laos when the Vietnam war quickly and dramatically escalated in 1964.
Then in 1965 the role of the RAAF at Ubon broadened to assisting the USAF in the tactical war against North Vietnam. The USAF used the air base to launch air attacks on North Vietnam 24 hours a day.
“We were in harm’s-way, as I found out, constantly. It was a base that operated against North Vietnam. The Americans had something like 80 phantom jet fighters there, bombers that took off every seven minutes and predominantly bombed Hanoi… We were in fact closer to Hanoi than most of the guys serving in Vietnam itself, it was a very vulnerable situation so it was very easy for insurgents to slip over the border, and they did,” Loeckenhoff said.
When Defence Force Personnel came back from war to Australia, they received a very unwelcome homecoming.
“The attitude from the RSL was different then, we were involved in a conflict that wasn’t recognised and we ‘shouldn’t have been there’ and we ‘shouldn’t have been involved there’ and ‘you’re child killers’ and all that sort of stuff and it was pretty horrible when we came back,” he said.
Then some years later after leaving the airforce, Loeckenhoff realised his service was not documented.
“I looked at my discharge papers and there was no indication anywhere that I’d been to Ubon, so I inquired and they said, ‘no, you weren’t there’. What I learnt later was that it was a covert operation. We weren’t supposed to be involved in the Vietnam War, we were supposed to be there with SEATO (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation),” Loeckenhoff said.
“It took 30 years of fighting to get government recognition of our service there.”
In 1993 a RAF Ubon Recognition Group was formed and members have since staged a continuous battle with Australian Governments for full and appropriate recognition.
Since leaving the Airforce, Loeckenhoff has been working in community roles, including serving for 12 years at the Murraylands Community Men’s Shed in the Secretary and Treasurer roles. He has recently stepped down from official duties but remains a life member.
Hear Mick Loeckenhoff’s story as he speaks with ARN’s Adam Connelly and Jennie Lenman via the podcast play window below:
This Friday 18 August from 1pm, all residents, school students, community groups, workers and business operators are all encouraged to come along to the Vietnam Veterans March in Murray Bridge to pay their respects and line the streets in an offer of support.
Marchers and a drum corps will depart from Diamond Park, along Adelaide Road, past the Bridgeport Hotel and on to the War Memorial at Sturt Reserve. There will also be an RAAF flyover.
All ADF personel and veterans are invited to take part in the march.