The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (18797) Corporal Ronald John Engstrom, 1 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.116
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 26 April 2018
Access Open
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (18797) Corporal Ronald John Engstrom, 1 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War.

Speech transcript

18797 Corporal Ronald John Engstrom, 1 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers
KIA 30 January 1970
Story delivered 26 April 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal Ronald John Engstrom.

Ronald Engstrom was born in Brisbane on 20 December 1947. He grew up alongside his sister, Dawn, and brothers Robert and David, with his parents Chris and Grace in the Brisbane suburb of Gaythorne, which sat right on the edge of Enoggera Army Barracks.

Ronald Engstrom attended school at nearby Mitchelton, progressing to Mitchelton State High School, where he enjoyed maths, woodwork and technical drawing, and joined the school’s cadet unit. These skills would soon lead to his chosen trade and calling. He also enjoyed sport – at that stage soccer – and much of his weekends was spent playing for the Mitchelton Soccer Club.

Having barely turned 15, Engstrom was accepted into the Army Apprentices School at Balcombe, near Mount Martha, Victoria on the 9th of January 1963 as an apprentice carpenter and joiner. His enlistment was for nine years’ service. During his apprenticeship Engstrom kept up his soccer, playing for the school team in the Victorian Soccer Football Association, and also took part in swimming and gymnastics.

After he finished at Balcombe in December 1965, the final year of Engstrom’s apprenticeship was spent at the School of Military Engineering at Holsworthy, near Sydney. Here he completed a variety of specialised training courses and also gained practical trade experience with a local building firm. By the end of 1966, he was made apprentice corporal in the Royal Australian Engineers, and in January 1967 received his first unit posting to 23 Construction Squadron.

The war in Vietnam had been steadily intensifying throughout the early 1960s, and from 1965 more US and Australian troops were drawn into the fighting. The next phase of Engstrom’s career as a military engineer would be in Vietnam. To prepare, he did the Battle Efficiency Course at the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra. Men such as Engstrom had to be both soldiers and skilled engineer tradesmen.

He joined the 21st Engineer Support Troop in Vietnam in June 1967. There he was involved a variety of work, ranging from the more mundane construction and maintenance tasks “inside the wire” at Vung Tau or Nui Dat, to the more dangerous jobs supporting patrols and working out in the bush, where mines were a constant hazard. Just as Engstrom arrived in-country, a major project had recently been completed by the Australian Engineers – the laying of an 11-kilometre-long minefield, from the town of Dat Do all the way to the southern coast.

He was halfway through his tour when the enemy launched their Tet Offensive in January 1968. It was a frantic period in Vietnam, and heavy action was still in full swing at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral in May when Engstrom completed his tour and returned home. Posted to the 18th Field Squadron in Townsville, he bought a block of land near his childhood home in Brisbane and got engaged. With dreams to provide a home for his future bride, Engstrom applied to go back for another tour of Vietnam.

On 2 December 1969, Engstrom arrived in Vietnam for his second tour. Still shy of his 22nd birthday, he was an experienced and well-qualified engineer corporal, serving with 1 Field Squadron. The squadron’s biggest task was clearing the barrier minefield, which had become more harmful than protective, as the enemy had been lifting the mines and re-using them to target the Australians. Aside from this main job, the engineers performed a variety of tasks, including building and repairing roads and bridges, construction and demolition, and supporting the infantry by clearing mines and booby traps.

On 30 January 1970, 3 Platoon, A Company, 6 RAR patrolled out from their base at the Horseshoe, a hill near Dat Do, moving south-east towards the coast. Late in the afternoon near the village of Loc An, enemy mines were encountered. It’s most likely that Engstrom and his teammate, Sapper Anthony Hollis, were working as a splinter team out front, ahead of the infantry, engaged in the dangerous and demanding task of detecting and clearing mines. A Vietcong mine detonated, killing both men and wounding several nearby.

The dustoff chopper was called in to evacuate the wounded and retrieve the two young engineers’ bodies. Hollis was 23 years old, Engstrom just 22. Engstrom’s remains were sent home to Australia, where they were cremated at Albany Creek Memorial Park in Brisbane. An airstrip was later named after him at the Field Training Area near Townsville.

Ronald Engstrom’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among the 521 Australians who died while serving in the Vietnam War. This evening his photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal Ronald John Engstrom, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Craig Tibbitts
Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (18797) Corporal Ronald John Engstrom, 1 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War. (video)