Bravery with a golden touch

Department of Defence

When ‘Albatross 04’, a RAAF 9 Squadron Iroquois helicopter, flew out of Vung Tau, Vietnam, on September 8, 1967, Corporal (retd) Anton Kretschmann couldn’t have known that his actions on that day would earn him a Chief of Air Force Gold Commendation 57 years later.

Corporal Kretschmann, the assistant crewman on what was his second sortie on the Iroquois helicopters with 9 Squadron, was called to an emergency – a United States Air Force Forward Air Control (FAC) Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ had crashed.

The ‘Bird Dog’ had gone down with crewmen Al Sayer and John Chappel, north-east of Nui Dat, with a faint distress beacon detected by the Australian helicopter crew.

As the crew circled the US Air Force FAC helicopter metres above the jungles of Vietnam, they saw a flare that led them to the downed aircraft.

Corporal Kretschmann stepped onto the helicopter skid and, on seeing the upside-down ‘Bird Dog’ in the trees, was heard to say, “I had better go and give them a hand.”

On what was his first ever winch, Corporal Kretschmann was lowered to the crash site, and had an injured Mr Chappel safely lifted back onto the Iroquois helicopter.

‘I had to wrap the cable around him and use hand signals to the pilot to gradually pull Al out, a few inches at a time.’

During the winch, Corporal Kretschmann took it on himself to search the immediate vicinity for maps and weapons, with the danger of being discovered by the enemy ever present.

‘Bird Dog’ pilot Al Sayer didn’t survive the crash, and an emotional Corporal Kretschmann recounted the moments of the winching.

“I had to take the winch cable inside the wreckage to get Al out,” Corporal Kretschmann recalled.

“I had to wrap the cable around him and use hand signals to the pilot to gradually pull Al out, a few inches at a time.

“He was a big man and I wasn’t going to put him in the litter, but I had to get him out.”

Group Captain Dennis Tan, representing Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman, visited Corporal Kretschmann’s Queensland home, and alongside 23 Squadron Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Aaron Reynolds, presented a retrospective commendation.

“This acknowledgement is deeply important. Anton should wear this with pride for his actions on that September day in 1967 and I thank him for his brave service,” Group Captain Tan said.

“I’m glad that his bravery is being recognised. We’re very proud to be here and present this as we know his family and friends are proud to be here today.”

Corporal Kretschmann’s son, Luke, couldn’t attend due to Army training at Puckapunyal, but being with his wife Ann, daughter Samantha, and family and friends while receiving the commendation was a special moment.

“The commendation means recognition by my comrades in arms. I am extremely grateful for this recognition,” Corporal Kretschmann said.

“The Commanding Officer of Forward Air Control came to our stand-by hut at Nui Dat in 1967 and thanked the pilot, Ron Gardener, the crewman and myself, and said he was going to put us in for a silver star, but of course we were not allowed to accept foreign awards.

“After all, we were just doing our job.”

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