Lance Corporal Gillespie was the medic on board a Royal Australian Air Force 'dustoff' helicopter that was shot down over the Long Hai Hills in Phuoc Tuy province in 1971.
The helicopter had been called to evacuate wounded soldiers of an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Army) unit in the Long Hai Hills. Whilst winching one of the wounded soldiers for evacuation, the helicopter was hit be enemy ground fire. As a result of the enemy fire the aircraft engine stopped and it crashed to the ground and caught fire. Lance Corporal Gillespie was trapped in the wreckage and could not be rescued.
An Australian veterans group, Operation Aussies Home had already identified the crash site and Unrecovered War Casualties – Army had carried out an initial examination in early 2007.
In November 2007 the Unrecovered War Casualties - Army team, augmented by two members of Operations Aussies Home, returned to the Long Hai Hills, now called the Minh Dam Mountains and after a thorough search of the site recovered the human remains of Lance Corporal Gillespie. On Wednesday 5 December 2007 Vietnamese forensic experts in Hanoi confirmed the Australian team’s conclusion that the remains were those of Lance Corporal John Gillespie.
Arrangements were quickly made to enable the family to have John home for Christmas. The new Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Honourable Mr Alan Griffin MP and Commander 1st Division, Major General Richard Wilson (representing Chief of Army), accompanied Lance Corporal Gillespie's widow Mrs Carmel Hendrie and his daughter Fiona Pike to Hanoi where a repatriation ceremony, hosted by the Australian Ambassador, was held. Also present were representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Operation Aussies Home and the Vietnam Veterans Association. A bearer party of soldiers from the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion carried Lance Corporal Gillespie's casket onto a Royal Australian Air Force C130 aircraft which departed for Australia on Monday 17 December 2007.
After quiet time in Darwin for the extended family, Lance Corporal Gillespie's remains were welcomed home in a moving ceremony at Point Cook RAAF Base near Melbourne on Wednesday 19 December 2007. Again, a large crowd of Vietnam Veterans and currently serving men and women were present to see another Australian casualty of war finally brought home to rest. The officer commanding the honour guard for Lance Corporal Gillespie's return was Second Lieutenent Robert Gillson, the son of Private Peter Gillson whose remains had been recovered in Vietnam by Unrecovered War Casualties - Army in April 2007.
Lance Corporal John Gillespie was buried in a private family ceremony in Melbourne on Saturday 22 December 2007.