As the nation acknowledged the 1000s who were involved in conflicts around the world over the past 100 plus years on Anzac Day, Del Heuke was reflecting on her time stationed at Butterworth and the young men she helped rehabilitate and repatriate.
Del is one of those selfless members of the community who dedicate their spare hours to helping others within the community.
For more than 30 years the former RAAF nurse and one-time section officer, has worked tirelessly with the Wingham RSL sub-branch as a pensions and welfare officer and more recently veterans' wellbeing advocate.
In 2018 she was acknowledged for her work with an Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
In those days - before the Westpac helicopter retrieval - we would do the medivacs like to Norfolk Island or Glen Innes.Del Heuke
After completing her four year registered nurse training at Royal Prince Alfred, she ventured west to the tiny eight-bed Tullamore Hospital.
But despite growing up in the then country community of Peats Ridge, Del found the small community lonely and the work boring.
An advertisement calling for trained nurses with the RAAF piqued her interest.
"Dad had been in the air force," she said.
After applying and getting accepted Del was posted to Laverton, near RAAF Base Point Cook, the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force, for 18 months where she added to her already comprehensive skill set undertaking a basic aviation medical training course.
Then, it was back to NSW and the 50-bed Richmond base hospital.
"In those days - before the Westpac helicopter retrieval - we would do the medivacs like to Norfolk Island or Glen Innes," she said.
"An ambulance would bring the patient to the plane and then we would transport them down to Sydney, usually Mascot."
Eager to spread her wings and taste another side of nursing Del applied for a posting at the 6th RAAF base, Butterworth in Malaysia near the start of Australia's involvement in the second Vietnam war and during the Indonesia-Malaysian confrontation, as part of SEATO.
"It was a very cosmopolitan group of people, from Fiji, Malaysia, the Brits, Gurkhas, New Zealanders and Borneo; it was pretty good and a mess of young men."
Arriving on St Patrick's Day, a celebratory drink at the bar, and Del met her future husband Fred who was a navigator on Canberra bomber. He later trained to become a pilot.
Initially Del's duties were to patch up maimed soldiers who suffered a variety of injuries from gunshot and bomb wounds, malaria and amputations on the Butterfield base.
She was later assigned to fly into the war zone to treat and collect the badly injured from a MASH unit before the long flight back to Malaysia.
During those early days the medical team used equipment dating back to the Korean war and flew the return trip from Saigon on an one-time World War II relic, the DC3, Del said.
However, as the conflict extended equipment was updated and a C-130 Hercules delivered.
Del said she never felt threatened or frightened during the more than 15 flights into Vietnam.
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"Once we got back and there was a hole in the plane, but I didn't feel anything, and another time our Jeep had a flat tyre.
"The Vietcong often boobytrapped tyres with small rice size pieces of metal.
"We hid behind a rock until the tyre was fixed."
Nurses always looked forward to the flights from Richmond or Townsville, when they 'boys' brought in fresh milk, or the long repatriation flights back to Australia via Cocos, Perth and the Richmond.
"We would get two weeks break before going back."
Del followed Fred back to Australia six months after he returned, leaving both Malaysia and the RAAF to become a pilot's wife. Back in those days the RAAF didn't employ married women.
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