Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 25/04/2006, pg. 1

RETIRED American chopper pilot Mark Skulborstad will be a long way from home today but there is no other place he would rather be than the Anzac Day commemoration in Toowoomba.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, the former US Army chief warrant officer explained how he has made the journey to Toowoomba every Anzac Day for the past eight years as a way of honouring the Australian mates who fought and died alongside him during the Vietnam War.

“I keep coming back for all the Aussies who helped us out. The ones that are alive and the ones who died,” he said.

As Mr Skulborstad stands with his mates today, hundreds of young Australians and New Zealanders will be preparing to stand at another place, the site where the Anzac Day tradition began, Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula.

One of those, Adrian Lane, a Melbourne man in his mid-20s, stood silent yesterday looking down at the grave of a 20-year-old Australian.

There are hundreds of them on the headland overlooking the Aegean Sea, and each year at this time thousands of Australians, New Zealanders and Turks make their way there to stand and solemnly gaze at gravestones.

“I suppose it’s a bit of a pilgrimage,” Mr Lane said. “I heard about others who’d been here before and when I came overseas it was one of the things I wanted to do. I haven’t got a great knowledge of the history of it but I wanted to learn a bit about our heritage — where we came from, what makes us different to other people.”

This morning, Brisbane’s Anzac Day commemorations were due to begin with the dawn service at Anzac Square’s Shrine of Remembrance at precisely 4.28am, the time the Anzac diggers hit the beaches at Gallipoli 91 years ago.

The Anzac Day march will begin at 10am at the corner of Queen Street Mall and George St.

Other services and parades will be held throughout the state, including Innisfail where Australian Air Force Cadets from across north Queensland will be bussed to the march in a symbolic show of support for the town devastated by Cyclone Larry last month.

For Mr Skulborstad, one special mate is retired Australian Army warrant officer Terry Egan, not least because — until eight years ago — Mr Skulborstad believed Mr Egan had been killed in the war.

The pair had worked closely in Vietnam, with then 20-year-old Mr Skulborstad flying his helicopter into enemy territory to drop and pick up soldiers — including Mr Egan — on reconnaissance missions.

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“He came in under fire to take us out of enemy territory. He went the extra mile for us,” Mr Egan said.

The two lost track of each other after the joint Australian-American compound at Hue in south Vietnam where they were based was attacked in 1967.

Mr Skulborstad was badly injured but survived due in part to the actions of a Brisbane soldier, Des Ford, who fought off enemy attack and administered first aid to him and two other wounded US soldiers.

Mr Skulborstad left Vietnam believing Mr Egan, a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, had been killed.

“He thought I was dead and I thought he was dead. I often thought about him because we were great mates,” Mr Skulborstad.

“Eight years ago I got an email from Terry. I was totally speechless.”

The email explained that Mr Egan had found his mate’s wings badge and cap and offered to return them. Mr Skulborstad replied he would come and get them in person.

So began the annual tradition of Mr Skulborstad flying to Australia to attend Anzac Day in Toowoomba with the mate who kept his wings for 31 years.

For Terry Egan, the discovery that his friend had survived was like having someone come back from the dead.

“When I got back to the bombed compound, I spotted the wings and saw his name on the cap,” he said. “I thought he was dead. I was told all three Americans were killed. I took the cap and wings home and pinned them to my unit shield.

“When I heard Mark was alive I searched for him and found him in 1999.”

That first Anzac Day, the pair marched side by side in the Brisbane parade as part of Mr Egan’s unit, the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.

Mr Egan will lead the main Anzac service at the Mothers’ Memorial in Toowoomba at 10am today.

Copyright 2006 / Courier Mail