It was with sadness that we learned of the death of Naval Airman (Handler) Charles Clifford “Blue” St Clair R94852 .  He passed away peacefully at his home in Wagga on 3rd June 2016, aged 67.

Blue joined the RAN as a 16 year old Junior Recruit and spent 12 months at Leeuwin before being posted to Albatross to do his Handlers Course. Her served on HMAS Melbourne before being posted to the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam in early 1968, leaving for Vietnam in October of that year. 

He served at the US Army’s camps Blackhorse and Bearcat and, whilst flying as a door gunner, was wounded in June of 1969 and was repatriated back to Australia.  He was discharged from the RAN from Concord Repatriation Hospital, where he also married his childhood sweetheart Colleen in August 1972. 

An account of the action in which he was wounded is told by his Aircraft Commander: 

“I just thought I would tell you all what happened on 16 June 1969. The crew consisted of Colling (AC), Miller (Pilot), Tilt (Crew Chief), and St. Clair (Gunner). It was a typical day of making combat assaults in the morning and special missions in the afternoon. We were called on to do a Medevac in the “Wagon Wheel” area (north of Dong Tam and northwest of Cai Be).

We flew to the given grid coordinates and as we flew around the LZ they popped smoke. I made my approach from east to west and crossed perpendicular to the canal at the east end of the LZ. We received a little sporadic fire crossing the canal, but nothing too alarming or surprising (so common in that area it was hardly worth mentioning). I was rapidly decelerating as we headed towards the smoke. I was down to 20 – 30 knots when all hell broke loose. We received heavy fire from the tree line on the north side of the LZ and some from the tree line on the south. St. Clair and Tilt were returning fire.

I decided that we weren’t going to make it in, so I nosed it over and started to pull pitch. At that very instant a VC with an AK-47 popped up out of the elephant grass and aimed his weapon straight at me. I ducked my head behind the instrument panel (apparently Miller did likewise). Most of the rounds hit my side of the cockpit and a few hit Miller’s side. At about the same time both of our M-60s fell silent. I had to stop this guy, so I nosed over a little more and dipped the front left skid in hopes that I would make contact. I’m guessing that I did, because I felt a slight thump and the firing from his position ceased. At this instant I felt a tug on the cyclic. It was Miller on the controls. I told him that I’ve got it and he looked at me with eyes about as big around as silver dollars. The cockpit was pretty shot up and there was blood all over the instrument panel. We both thought that each other had been hit.

There was very little room left at the west end of the LZ. The only option was to make a climbing right hand turn to get over the trees. As I did so we received more fire. At this point, the aircraft was in pretty bad shape – transmission oil pressure was zero and the turbine was losing some rpm. I had to get the aircraft on the ground as soon as possible, so I continued to turn and initiated a downwind autorotation (luckily there was very little wind), but I left the throttle on in case I needed to avoid a rice dike or get away from a hidden gun position. I made a mayday call on the way down and positioned the aircraft to land as close to the center of the rice paddy as I could. As we touched down, Miller was quickly out of his seat. I finished the shutdown and quickly exited the aircraft.

I ran to the front of the aircraft to remove the KY-28 (scrambler decoder) out of the avionics bay. The electrical harness was on so tight I couldn’t budge it, so I pulled out my Colt 38 and put a couple of rounds into it – besides I couldn’t stay any longer because rounds were hitting all around me. I was thinking about setting up the M-60s on rice dikes just to the east and west of the aircraft, but at that very moment Schunemann was approaching our position.

I saw Tilt holding his bleeding hand and heading towards Schunemann’s approximate landing position. Where were Miller and St. Clair? I ran around the aircraft on the south side and saw Miller trying to extricate St. Clair from his gunner’s seat. The two of us managed to get St. Clair out and started to carry him towards Schunemann’s aircraft (about 50 yards away). The ground got soggy and it felt like we had 30 pound weights attached to each ankle. The gunner was motioning us to hurry up. We went as fast as we could. We were all still under fire and I’m sure glad that they weren’t very good shots.

When we got to the cargo bay we lifted St. Clair up and in as far as we could. Miller jumped in and was pulling St. Clair in while I was lifting and pushing his legs. Just as we got St. Clair fully in the aircraft, Schunemann started to lift off while I was standing on skid leaning into the cargo bay. The gunner grabbed me by the belt and helped me scramble the rest of the way in. It was about a 15 minute flight to Cai Be and all the while Miller was doing what he could to keep St. Clair alive.

Schunemann had called ahead and had an ambulance with medics meet us at the Medevac pad. We helped load St. Clair and Tilt into the ambulance. I talked to Schunemann and decided that he would refuel and would be waiting for us somewhere near the Medevac area. Miller and I headed to the hospital to find out what we could. The medics told us that Tilt was going to need some work on his hand and would be a while before he would be 100% again. St. Clair was going to need specialized neurosurgery, if he survived long enough to get it. The medics didn’t seem too optimistic.

Ed Colling.  EMU 23, Bearcat 1969″

Blue’s grave is Wagga, NSW.  He was survived by his wife, Colleen and children Michael, Rebecca and Daniel.

Rest in Peace, your duty is done.