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The Day I Rode with Sandy Pearson

By 41961 WO1 (Bob) R.C. Thompson (Ret)

I was commanding a Forward Repair Team (FRT) for 106 Fd. Wksp. and was at Fire Support Base (FSB) Julia, situated on Route 15 South Vietnam.

We had carried out repairs on a Centurion Tank and I was making arrangements for an escort back to Baria when a young Corporal approached me to tell me his main armament on his tank was out of action because his Auto Lock hand traverse was faulty.

One look at it and I could see it was the old trouble in the Auto Lock detents in the roller surfaces that allow the gunner to disengage his hand control to auto control of the turret. I told the Cpl I would have to get him a changeover but he would have to wait till next day to get it. He told me he needed it now and as they had been hit the night before they expected to be hit again that night.

The only way I could get back to the Wksp and get a changeover was to use a Chopper, (Helicopter) so I removed the Auto Lock and raced over to the Control Tent and requested a chopper to take me to Nui Dat. After many calls by the G1 Air, there were no aircraft available. I noticed there was a chopper on the pad and I asked who’s it was, to be told it was General Sandy Pearson’s. I said I would ride in that. I raced over to the HQ Tent to be met by an officious Captain who was Sandy’s Aide who told me the aircraft was full and I had no hope.

I could see the General in the back of the tent talking to his staff so I went to go past the Captain who stood his ground and refused to allow me past. I had no badges of rank on, I was dressed in shorts, shirt had and boots and in my hand I had an Auto Lock. The Aide spoke in an aloof manner and told me there was no way I could speak to the General and he tried to usher me out of the tent entrance.

I knew how important it was for the tank to have a serviceable Auto Lock and it appeared no explanation was going to shift the General’s Aide so I resorted to the direct approach. I yelled out to the General and said I wanted to speak to him.

The Captain was yelling that he told me I couldn’t see the General and that I wanted a seat on the Chopper. General Pearson, who I knew was an old Tankie, could see I had an Auto Lock in my hand so he motioned the Aide to allow me access and motioned me forward. I explained to the General I needed to get back to the Wksp to get a change over Auto Lock and return to FSB Julia.

General Pearson told me to get aboard the chopper and when the Aid said there was no room the General told him to stay behind and he would be picked up later. I can still see that Captain mumbling all kinds of threats.

Thanks to Sandy Pearson I had the gun back in action that night and yes, they were attacked. From that day on I carried a spare Auto Lock with me.

As I looked at General Sandy Pearson at the National Australian Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial March and Dedication I recalled the happening to my mind.

I will always remember the day I rode with Sandy Pearson.

Task Force Armourer, 1 Taskforce Head Quarters LAD,
ASM 1st Armoured Wksp,
ASM 106 Fd Wksp