In memory of Lieutenant
No efforts can provide compensation to those who lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict however the Italo Australian Club and its greater community, honours the commitment that was made by all Vietnam Veterans who fought in a war that was controversial and divisive. We applaud and acknowledge the efforts of all, and offer them the respect, and honour they truly deserve for their service.
The Italo Australian Club honours the legacy of Lieutenant Anthony Casadio Royal Australian Navy, by having named its location ‘Casadio Park’, in recognition of the only son of an Italian Immigrant resident in Mount Gambier, Anthony died in August 1968 whilst undertaking a military operation at Nui Dat, Vietnam.
Dedications to Lieutenant Anthony Casadio during Anzac Day memorials and match games continue today.
Known as “Tony” to his friends and family, Anthony Casadio was born in Port Lincoln in South Australia on the 30th of December 1945. He grew up in Mount Gambier, where he attended Marist Brothers College.
Tony joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1964 and trained as a jet pilot then transitioned to helicopters. After graduating from RAAF flying school at Pearce in Western Australia, he began flying helicopters from HMAS Melbourne.
In 1967 he joined the first contingent of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter (Air Arm) Flight Vietnam, which had been formed to support US and South Vietnamese ground forces.
The Australians fully integrated into the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company, and were the only such Australian-US integrated unit during the Vietnam War. Known as EMU – the Experimental Military Unit – the unit took on the large flightless bird as an ironic mascot and call sign. The motto of the company also had a uniquely Australian ring to it: “Get the bloody job done”.
The 135th Assault Helicopter Company flew US Army Iroquois “Huey” helicopters in two configurations: the gunship and the troop transport, or “slick”. Tony was a gunship pilot and squadron leader. He was also the pilot of the first helicopter of the unit to be shot down.
On the 19th of November 1967, Tony was piloting a helicopter that was attacking a Viet Cong position when his gunship was hit by small arms fire, the fuel tanks were punctured. He managed to successfully crash-land the aircraft in enemy-controlled territory in the Rung Sat Special Zone.
Using the helicopter’s machine gun, he and the gunship crew were able to hold off advancing Viet Cong soldiers before being rescued and picked up by a Chinook Helicopter. For his leadership, skill, and courage during this encounter, Tony was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross, the first gallantry award to be won by a naval aviator in Vietnam.
In December 1967, the 135th moved from the increasingly crowded base at Vung Tau to the American fire support base Black Horse near Xuan Loc. From there the unit flew troop lift, combat assault, and support missions in Phuoc Tuy province and the Mekong Delta. The helicopters often came under heavy fire while inserting and extracting US, Australian, and South Vietnamese soldiers.
On the 21st of August 1968, Tony was lead gunship, and along with another gunship, flying at tree-top level from Black Horse to Nui Dat, his gunship was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, and it crashed in a clearing.
Lieutenant Anthony Casadio, fellow Australian Petty Officer O’Brian Phillips, and two American crew members were killed on impact. The loss of the four men was keenly felt at Black Horse base, all the more because Tony was ten months into his 12-month tour of duty.
Several years ago, an eye witness came forward and disputed the official cause of death of Lieutenant Anthony Casadio. As Tony was a member of the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm, they undertook their own investigation and indicated (in print) that they do not support the official version of cause of death, however the official version remains.
A memorial service was held in the days after the incident. Tony’s record of “constant heroic acts and exceptional devotion to duty” was posthumously mentioned in despatches. Tony Casadio was 22 years old. His remains were buried on the 10th of September 1968 in the Carinya Gardens Cemetery in Mount Gambier.
Members and mates of Lieutenant Anthony Casadio from the Fleet Air Arm and the 135th Airborne raised money for the initial Casadio award which commenced at Tenison College (Marist Brothers) in 1969. This award is still presented each year at Tenison College by Mr. Robert Sandow (President) RSL Mt Gambier Branch, on behalf of the Italian Pensioners of Mount Gambier. The Mount Gambier Air Cadets have been presenting the Casadio Trophy annually to the best cadet since 1970.
Information courtesy of Mr. Robert Sandow – President Mount Gambier Branch RSL (2023)