The Chicago Six at Sydney Airport on our way to Chicago. From left: John Wilson; Peter Poulton; Robert Dodds; Barry Dowsett;
me; Bob Gibson. Kneeling in the corner of the picture is the journalist Mike Safe, who came to the airport to cover our departure.
We had a relatively uneventful, though long and physically trying flight to Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. The flight was
most demanding on Peter, who had his own personal reasons to dislike flying. But we made it to Los Angeles, where, as the
next picture shows, we were greeted by the "Tracers" cast and crew.
It's a pity that Peter's face is only partially visible at the left of this picture, because it's clear from the look on his
face how pleased he is that the long flight is over, and how much he is enjoying that first American beer!
After we left Los Angeles, we flew on to San Francisco. At the time, San Francisco had a reputation as the gay capital of
the world. Our time in the city was particularly amusing, because the only accommodation we could find was at the YMCA! So
what a sight we must have been, six macho Aussie diggers spending a night in the San Francisco YMCA, the gay centre of the
gay capital of the world!
The flight from San Francisco to Chicago was memorable for three reasons. The first was the pep talk given to us by Gibbo,
who reminded us that we were ambassadors for our country and we would be constantly in the public eye. Therefore we had to
be on our best behaviour at all times. The second was the party thrown for us by the flight crew between Minneapolis and Chicago,
which made it all the more difficult to live up to the standards Gibbo had demanded of us. The aircraft was almost empty,
and the crew kept plying us with drinks and partying with us all the way to Chicago. The third memorable moment came as the
aircraft started to descend at Chicago and Robert Dodds called out "Green smoke!". It was "mission accomplished"
for the first part of our adventure. We had reached Chicago.
At the airport we were met by our hosts from the Windy City Veterans Association (WCVA). At the same time, we were besieged
by television cameras and reporters. In the confusion and the glare of the television lights, Gibbo made his Chicago TV debut
by tripping over his luggage. We all had a laugh remembering his pep talk on the flight from San Francisco!
Our Windy City Veterans Association hosts transported us by limousine from the airport to their headquarters at the Dubliner,
a pub on the Southside. This was the beginning of a seemingly endless schedule of public and social engagements that would
last three weeks. It soon became apparent that all six of us were going to have to share the burden of public speaking as
well as the enjoyment of almost constant partying. It made me proud to see how well Robert, Barry, Bob, Peter and John handled
these tasks. Each one was an outstanding ambassador for the Australian veteran community. In this picture, Robert is making
a speech thanking the WCVA for their welcome. From left, we are: Robert, Peter, John, me, Gibbo and Barry. In the picture
below, I'm making a presentation to Tom Stack, Chairman of the Chicago Welcome Home Parade Committee.
The WCVA were our hosts for all of our three weeks in Chicago. They arranged our accommodation, initially in a hotel until
the Welcome Home Parade had been completed, and later in the homes of WCVA members. They arranged both our official and our
social activities. They even arranged for us to fly to Washington DC to visit "The Wall", the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
They ensured that our visit to Chicago would be an experience we would never forget.
This is the family whose home I shared in Chicago, Paul and Jane Nealis and their
daughter Jinelle. Jane was a member of the Chicago Police Force, Jinelle was about to start college, while Paul, a veteran
of the US Marines in Vietnam in 1965-66, was a lawyer, and is now a judge. They lived only a few metres' walk (or stagger)
from the Dubliner.
The members of the WCVA put a great deal of effort into entertaining and caring for us while were
in Chicago. There was so much to do that after the first week none of us had had any sleep. We thought "these Chicago veterans
must have extraordinary stamina to keep up this pace". Then we realised that the WCVA members who were partying with us at
night and taking us to a variety of events by day were not always the same people. They were working in shifts! No wonder
we weren't able to get a wink of sleep!
This was one of our first official functions in Chicago, and gave us a taste of what was to come. We visited the aptly named
"Moving Wall", a scale model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., which travels around the country.
When we got there, we found ourselves very much in demand from the media. In this picture, Peter and I are being interviewed
for television. To the right of the picture, Barry and Robert are being interviewed by a different journalist, and somewhere
out of picture another journalist is interviewing Gibbo and John.
If you click on the picture, you will be taken
to the "Virtual Wall" website.