Florio Da Re was at an Anzac Day service in Donnybrook when he saw a man standing alone, wearing service medals, and went to say “g’day.” That man turned out to be Stewart (Roger) Bannister, for whom Mr Da Re had been searching for 55 years. The duo were two of 190 16-year-old men who began with the 20th RAAF apprentice intake — nicknamed the “Squirrels” — at the RAAF School of Technical Training in Wagga Wagga, NSW, in 1966. Mr Bannister left the apprentice program to join the Air Force in 1967, believing it was the last he would see of his “appie” mates. According to Mr Da Re, Mr Bannister was one of only 19 men unaccounted for of the 190 members who began the apprenticeship scheme in 1966. “We have been looking for him, because 190 of us joined up and he was one of the 20 or so guys who were missing,” he said. “We have reunions every couple of years, and we are very close-knit.” Mr Bannister, who now lives in Bunbury, said it was unbelievable to see a familiar face from more than half a century ago. “To be truthful, I never thought I would see someone again who was on the apprenticeship scheme with me,” Mr Bannister said. “He told me his name, and suddenly everything started to come back.” At just 16, Mr Da Re, from Greenbushes, and Mr Bannister, from Kellerberrin, relocated their lives to join the program. “You grew up pretty quick, you learnt the system pretty quickly, otherwise it wouldn’t have been a very happy place,” Mr Da Re said. Mr Da Re graduated as an instrument fitter in 1968 and did 20 years of service around Australia and the world — including at RAAF Base Pearce, in Townsville and Malaysia — before settling in Donnybrook. After leaving the Squirrels, Mr Bannister ended up in Vietnam in 1968 as a gunner in the RAAF No. 9 Squadron, where he was involved in an incredible 1679 missions in six months. As a gunner in the No 9. Squadron, Mr Bannister was tasked with protecting his chopper as it placed and extracted members of the SAS from combat, sometimes under heavy fire. The missions were often dangerous and Mr Bannister was twice in helicopters that were shot down, On one occasion he returned to base to see the outside of the aircraft looking like “swiss cheese”. After the incredible stroke of luck to be reunited, the two men said they would now keep in touch. Mr Da Re said with many Squirrels still missing, and a number passing away, it was good to “get one back” in Mr Bannister.