A 66 year journey to honour Flying Officer Philip Zupp

"A quiet bloke who set about doing his job," is how renowned Highlands author Owen Zupp would best describe his father and it may have been that modesty that delayed official recognition of Flying Officer Philip Zupp's actions in 1952. 

"It was probably his nature that penalised him. When he was wounded he checked out of hospital and flew two missions the next day," Mr Zupp said. 

On February 6 1952, Flying Officer Zupp was searching for a downed pilot with the Australian Air Force's 77 Squadron when he was hit by ground fire which "destroyed his aircraft's canopy, shattered his flying goggles and inflicted shrapnel wounds to his face." 

At a service last week marking 100 years since the Battle of Hamel, the first time Australian and American troops fought side by side in an offensive action, Flying Officer Philip Zupp MID was posthumously awarded the United States Air Medal for his bravery that day in 1952. 

"Despite shock and low altitude Sergeant Zupp was able to regain control of his aircraft and return safely to base," his citation reads, "the professional skill and airmanship displayed by Sergeant Zupp in the dedication of his service to his country reflect great credit upon himself and the Royal Australian Air Force." 

Flying Officer Zupp was the first Australian ever to be awarded a Purple Heart, an American military decoration in the name of the President to those wounded or killed in action. 

At the time, every foreign decoration awarded to an Australian had to be approved through a British office in London and they denied Zupp's commendation. 

"My father didn't really know about it. It wasn't until 1985 when I was reading through records that I discovered he'd been given a Purple Heart," Mr Zupp said. 

That discovery sparked the inspiration for Owen Zupp to later write his father's life story in 'Without Precedent: Commando, Fighter Pilot, and the true story of Australia's first Purple Heart', published in 2016.  

"It just so happened that the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin read the book and started to pursue it through the correct channels," Mr Zupp said. 

Then six weeks ago Mr Zupp received a call to say that they'd had the go ahead from Washington and the medal would be sent on a plane to Australia for the ceremony on July 3. 

"I was reflecting the other day on what my Dad would have thought about it all. He was incredibly shy. As I was there at the service, I thought he would have been very polite and very formal, but he wouldn't have been able to get out of such a large gathering quick enough," he said. 

The passion for aviation has been carried on by Mr Zupp who is a Qantas pilot as well as a writer and editor of Australian Aviation Magazine.  

"My father was my flight instructor. He would tell me anecdotes and stories about his days as a fighter pilot, but it was always to impart in me lessons about flying," he said. 

"He never marched on ANZAC Day, but always attended the Dawn Service. His awards were still in the original boxes until his latter years. It was all treasured but tucked away.”