RAAF Warrant Officer Phillip Harold Hodge
No 6 Armament Apprentice Course
died 1976 of cancer buried in South Port Queensland
I never met Phil, as he was always a posting ahead of me. I first heard about Phil from Al (Horrible) Hunt, who had him marked down as one of the good blokes. The way I heard it Phil was the armourer primarily responsible for the development Iroquois gunship while working for Brian (Guns) Dirou (pilot) in Vietnam. Apparently he went all over country to bludge gear off the Yanks to put together the first D model gunship. He was back in Australia before I got to Vietnam (June 69). The gunships had become operational around March of 1969. Within my hearing everyone spoke well of Phil and his work.
Now to move on a few years, I think around 75/76. Phil became very ill, of cancer I think, and was hospitalised. Then came the sad part. He wanted to die in uniform and have a service funeral. But the Air Force wanted him discharged. The reason for this was that Phil was divorced (I think) and had a child who was the beneficiary of his estate. That estate would be larger if he was discharged and picked up his retirement benefits. His wish was over-ruled by the RAAF (for logical and good reasons) and he was discharged just before he died (and I am not sure if he even knew it, such was his condition).
Even though Phil had long left the helicopter world, it had not forgotten him. So 9 Sqn personnel decided that his final wish would be fulfilled as far as it could be. So with an official service funeral was out of the question, it was decided to make it as close as possible to one, and almost all the squadron personnel attended his funeral, in uniform. I did not attend as I was NCO I/C of duty crew on the day and had to prepare a gunship for the flypast. Yes, it was decided (within the squadron) to have a flypast at the funeral, completely against the rules.
Well I armed a gunship with blanks and we launched it for the flypast. Now comes the funny/sad bit. The funeral was up in the Gap area of Brisbane and apparently there are a couple of cemeteries in close proximity in the valleys up there. Well Murphy's law took control and some unsuspecting people where having a quiet funeral as a gunship rolled in and opened up with mini guns firing blanks at 4000 rounds a minute. A major shock for them and a bit of a disappointment for Phil's funeral.
It did not matter in the long run, as 9 Squadron did its best, against the all the rules and regs, to honour an armourer and a fellow chopper squadron member who worked very hard for both the squadron and the RAAF. Not a thing was ever mentioned officially about the squadrons actions on that day. But it will no doubt be remembered, as will Phil and the rest of the departed squadron members on the 24 Feb in Tamworth when 9 Squadron holds its Vietnam reunion.
"Near 40 years have passed since initiation of the Iroquois gunship project mainly involving myself as Project Officer, 'Blue' Downer - Electrician, Phil Hodge - Armourer and Roy Robinson - Aircraft Metalworker. The results of the project speak for themselves but the finer detail was pursued pretty inconspicuously behind the scenes by dedicated people who just got on with the job.
Phil was a very quiet individual who had my utmost respect and we worked well together.Early in 1976, I was CO 9SQN and got a message that Phil was in the base hospital at Amberley and would like to see me, but I was not aware that he was dying of cancer. Seeing him was high on my list of things to do but, sadly, he died before this eventuated and I have felt terrible about that ever since.
We decided to give Phil our unit version of a Service Funeral opting for a sole gunship flypast in lieu of the traditional 3 volleys of rifle fire. I asked somebody to determine the cemetery location which was in a built up area near Southport and we did a ground reconnaissance to assure ourselves that minigun firing of blanks would not cause too much alarm among the locals. A map location of the cemetery was ascertained for whoever was to captain the Bushranger and all of the other necessary arrangements made for a funeral service befitting the man.
Come the day of the funeral, we were transported to a different cemetery than the one initially inspected and I wrongfully assumed that whoever was handling the admin arrangements had conveyed this info to Flight Commanders. We did have a radio for communicating with the Bushranger but failed to verify that the pilot had the alternative cemetery location.
As the poignant part of proceedings approached, we could hear the lone Bushranger flown by Squadron Leader Arthur Lowe offshore beginning his approach for the flypast but then a burst of minigun fire at the wrong cemetery about 2 miles away. Fortunately, he had some ammunition remaining and was directed to the correct location by radio where the Bushranger overflew the graveside firing a burst from its miniguns after a short embarrassing delay in proceedings. Regrettably, it did not happen with the efficiency intended but Phil probably got a buzz and a laugh while observing from a higher place.
Post-funeral, I thought we had best send somebody across to the wrong urban cemetery to make sure that the locals had not been put offside. Whoever visited discovered a lone council worker digging a grave and asked: ' Did you happen to see a helicopter gunship fly over here Mate?'. The old grave digger apparently responded: 'See it; I thought it had come to bloody get me!'
Soon after the Vietnam War, I wrote an article for Army Journal titled '...and so, a Gunship was born' outlining the gunship development project. I have recently expanded this into an illustrated story with the same title embracing up to 70 images and it will hopefully be published via several mediums in the near future. The 'gunnies' association will be advised when the story emerges."
18 Sep 07
Phil was a great mate of mine, my wife & I saw him at Greenslopes Hospital a few days before he passed away. At the time I was a WOFF at 482 Sqn after leaving 9 Sqn in Dec 1976. It was great to read Brians memories, I was the person who advised him of Phil's health, which started the 9 Sqn flypast idea due to Brian and Phil's work on the gunships. I still remember Brian and I going to the Southport Police and going to the old Southport Cemetery to pick up the blank shells around the cemetery. we had a great wake, thanks Brian for your kind words about him. I still think of Phil & especially his family.
Rest In Peace Mate, miss you but have great memories from Townsville & Laverton.
Brian, I would like to get a copy of your book when published
I also attended the funeral of Phil Hodge and experienced the events as described by Brian Dirou, whilst in Vietnam I worked in association with Phil when the first bushranger gunship was being developed and participated in some of the flight trials working out of Kangaroo pad at Nui Dat, I learnt how to clean guns and rocket dispensers after a days operations under his guidance, a nice gentleman to work with.