Queensland Vietnam War veterans digital stories: Jon Raymond Fallows
Australia’s decade-long involvement in the Vietnam War remains a formative cultural event for Queenslanders in the 20th century. For some, the anti-war sentiment was the shaping of a generation; for others, it was a tragic final note to a stressful and traumatic service experience.
State Library of Queensland has recently interviewed a number of Vietnam War veterans for the purpose of capturing their wartime and post-war experiences as oral histories. Through their stories we are able to gain unique perspectives that shape our perception of this turbulent time, and can preserve and commemorate the service of those individuals who followed their country into war.
Jon Fallows served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Vietnam War. He applied to join the Navy in 1964 but was not accepted due to asthma, resulting in a second successful application to the Royal Australian Air Force on 9 March 1964.
I walked across the corridor to the Air Force office and I said “Will you take me if I’ve had asthma?” and they said, “Sure thing boy, come in.” So I joined the Air Force which, really was the best thing I ever did.
Though he volunteered to serve overseas in 1966, he did not receive his orders to ship out until 1967.
I was probably only a month over 21 when I got my posting to Phan Rang in Vietnam, and the one thing I remember specifically about it was we had to have a passport, see, and the passport was stamped ‘Not Valid for North Vietnam’!
Jon spent a total of 319 days in South Vietnam, during which he spent significant time with the US Air Force as well as with 2 Squadron. He spent the first six months of his posting on the flight line for the Canberra bombers, assisting with the loading of bombs, servicing planes and preparing them for the next sortie.
We were flying in those days eight sorties a day; in fact for four years they were flying eight sorties a day, and in 1968 and 9 they flew ten.
Jon also spent six months in the unit armoury servicing and managing the weapons for all personnel on the base. During this time he assisted with all of the small arms, issues demolitions explosives, and engaged in some forensic work.
Jon recounts in his interview the kinds of service he also undertook with the US Military during his service in Vietnam, including running missions with American air crews on his days off from active service with the Australian forces. Jon explains that due to differences in training between the Australian and the American aircraft personnel, the Australians were considered more versatile and were an asset to American crews.
For Jon and many other Australian servicemen in Vietnam, days off and recreation leave were often taken at Vung Tao, where the beach was a popular space to unwind, drink together, and engage in water activities like sailing and power-boating.
However, Jon emphasises that the Vietnam War service experience was unlike any previous war, and that its impacts on his life and the lives of many of his peers had been impacted more profoundly than he initially thought. When recalling the day-to-day environment, he said;
It was sort of a tense place because you never knew if there was a booby trap, or if someone was going to take a pot shot at you, or, you know… We were on their turf, we were ‘behind their lines’, if you will.
In addition to being interviewed, Jon graciously allowed State Library to take digital copies of his extensive collection of coloured slides, black and white photographs, and other related materials. This collection will be made available through our OneSearch catalogue soon.
You can watch Jon’s digital story below.