Is there no end to it? 29/10/71. Diary entry reads, Nothing much to do, just sitting around doing nothing. Boredom is a killer, it leads to people getting into mischief and losing their edge. We were in a funny situation, still in a war zone and yet here we were moping around the place. The only good thing, we had a new boss. I have no idea where the other bloke went and I didn’t have too much to do with this one. All we wanted to do was get out and patrol, or ambush or even go and get bogged somewhere – even a thrown track would have been welcome. No! We hung around, the sad thing was we had finished disposing of all the excess Claymores. It felt like being in a prison camp. The brass must have sensed the disquiet and on the following day we patrolled down to Ba Ria, the province capital and back. It blew the cobwebs out and gave us all something to do. Getting back into the turret again and feeling the wind rush past, the sheer thrill of rattling down the main road, ah – the bliss.
My diary entries up to the 7/11/71 are devoid of thrilling anecdotes and tales of daring do. Unless you count a vehicle service, okay we won’t count that. The words NTR are prominent, nothing to report, oh except bored to death. I’ve mentioned before how the memory is a funny thing and how stressful events can be buried deep in the subconscious. Well, this one came fully to mind as I wrote preceding blogs and if not for the skill of a pilot I wouldn’t be here. It was definitely in this time period that the event occurred, I had taken to wandering around the place trying to look busy and or keeping out-of-the-way. As you know we weren’t far from the airfield and on this day I could hear a light aircraft coming in to land. It didn’t sound healthy at all, coughing and farting away. The engine spluttered and roared and I, mister curious had to go and have a look. A quick jog and I found myself standing between the rubber plantation tree line and the edge of the airstrip, at the northern end. It wasn’t too hard to spot the plane, its starboard wing was on fire and white smoke streamed out of the engine cowling. Hmm, I thought, this is going to be interesting.
A view of Luscombe field from where we were living at the time.
I don’t know if anyone else saw this event unfold, or even came out to watch. The plane, I think it was a Pilatus Porter, or it could have been a Cessna made its way slowly north along the far side of the strip, about 30 feet off the ground. The plane had a rocket pod attached underneath each wing. These usually contained white phosphorous rockets, for marking targets and 2,75 inch rockets (that’s calibre, not length) the type that go boom when they hit the ground. You have heard the term, like a deer in the headlights, or rooted to the spot, well I covered both of them. Reaching the end of the strip where I stood, the pilot turned his plane and it pointed straight at me. Remember, he wasn’t that far off the ground and all I could see was this pod underneath the starboard wing burning merrily away. Bright orange flames licked the underside of the wing, white smoke poured out. I have no idea if he saw me or not, all I do know is he banked that plane hard to go back the way he ‘d come and then those rockets let loose.
Guy Fawkes Night had nothing on these rockets, they went off like, well a rocket. A huge whooshing sound repeated over and over again, as they sailed down the strip. For the life of me I don’t know where they ended up. Wherever they went I’m sure they scared the crap out of somebody else. The plane dropped down to my head height and thankfully landed at the southern end of the strip. What happened to the pilot, was he okay? I don’t know, what I do know is this. I turned around and walked away. The image of several rocket heads pointing at me from where they nestled in their individual tubes, was still visible in my mind’s eye. By the time I reached my hut and sat down the imagery began to fade. The memory flared briefly over the years but this is the first time I’ve recounted it in full. There are probably more questions than answers here, I would still like to know who he was, (American or Australian) where he came from, was he okay? So if anyone reading this remembers the event then please contact me.
Today we left Nui Dat, 07/11/71, I penned that entry into my diary, followed by, arrived Vung Tau at 1500hrs. A small entry for a big day indeed. Jock Taggart sent me a copy of the movement orders last week so I could get an overall idea of what transpired on the day. Nothing too exciting, except for the… we’ll get to that. No it was business as usual. An early rise, actually we were up way before sparrow fart, there were places to be by 0715 hours. Our place (42 section) turned out to be an area along route 2, north of Ba Ria opposite a bus stop.
The bus failed to stop and pick up these Regional Force soldiers so the one on the right decided to shoot at it. No consideration for the young girl standing there, or for the ever aware, men of the cavalry relaxing across the road.
I was in my turret and had taken the bus picture, Ted Beasley and Rolly Wood sat there looking for all the world like country gentlemen when the idiot started shooting. Boy, didn’t they leap out of their deck chairs. Yes it was funny, sort of, the umbrella went one way, the chairs flew over the sides.
After reading the ops order it gave me a different perspective on the day. Nothing was left to chance, and as the various units moved out from Nui Dat, Regional Force personnel moved in and took over. In effect it was a leap-frog type of manoeuvre. Now I have an idea of why we had the Beasts, they made for a formidable sight patrolling route 2 or positioned opposite bus stops. Or maybe not. It seems that all the real work was happening back at base with the movements of various units. A company of our infantry and APC’s secured the base, while two company’s of infantry flew out to Vung Tau. The more I read the report the more I realise how much I didn’t know what was going on. For instance: the Special Air Service, our elite soldiers – had gone. Was it something we said boys? You could have popped over and said cheerio, put on a few beers and a BBQ and thanked us for all the free armoured car rides. Did they really leave? Perhaps they sneaked off in the night like the shadows they were. Who knows but they did a great job. Then we have the 2/43 ARVN Infantry Group. (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) They’d been there since we moved house the first time, and were more than likely the ones trawling through our old huts and such. By 0800 a Regional Force unit moved onto Nui Dat hill, where the SAS used to live. I’m not sure what command expected but we had 104 field battery (our artillery) at Ba Ria, a US field battery on standby and one of our Mortar platoons. Man, now I’m feeling the love.
I do believe this is a picture of our battery. I can only apologise for the condition of the pictures, perhaps the grittiness adds some realism, I don’t know.
Indeed it was a leap-frog affair, once the main part of the unit passed us we followed and set up at the next location.
We moved on to Ba Ria and set up camp on the outskirts of town. It must have been lunch time because Snowy Marshall came over and made himself at home by my vehicle. He may have been trying to look nonchalant, I think he was calling out for a cuppa. You may notice that the sky is blue, yay, the wet season had ended a few weeks earlier.
This is not my picture, it came for Ken Johnson’s disc, so it could be under copyright somewhere. If so please let me know.
I have a feeling that is my vehicle in the rear. A Vietnamese policeman stands on the left and the locals on their scooters couldn’t give a fig. The following picture is definitely mine, we were the last vehicle through the gate and didn’t we stir the possum. The military police escorted our convoy in and then we received a hurried radio message to unload our main armament and Browning’s. It seemed a little too much for those who lived here at 1 ALSG, our new home for the following three and a half months. Although our soldiers based here had personal weapons, the magazines couldn’t be carried in the weapon and had to be taped to the butt. There we were bristling with weapons, I guess one can understand their discomfort.
So ends a huge chapter in my life. It may not have been a long one but it was an interesting one. I had been scared, elated, educated and in a way transformed. Looking back from my lounge chair as I type this I can say, “Yes, I would do it again.” Even though my body doesn’t want to work like it used to, I now have severe issues with my neck and thoracic spine. My brainstem is damaged and I suffer daily with the effects of PTSD. Yet, I am luckier than most, there are the dead, wounded and those suffering from far worse ailments than me. My favourite saying is, You wouldn’t be dead for quids. (For my US readers, a quid is a pound, our old currency).
One chapter finishes and another begins. Vung Tau gave me a deeper insight into human behaviour, a consummate people-watcher I soaked up the experience of being in a garrison town. I revelled in the availability of cheap sex, and lived my life as if there was no tomorrow. I gave no thought to consequences and started to become something of a loner. In retrospect I believe the symptoms of PTSD had started by then. Nothing outstanding at all, almost everybody else behaved the same way. This series isn’t over, there are still a view adventures to relate, and I come the closest to death until my drowning in 1978. There will be bargirls, yanks, racism, porn, fights and general mayhem. Hard work and agent orange, soldiers going crazy, days on the beach, and my first taste of – love?
Next week: Settling into our new home and I hit the town.