Impressions: Australians in Vietnam: Quotes
The following selection of quotes gives an insight into the personal thoughts and reflections of Australians who served in Vietnam. They have come from a variety of sources, including letters held in the Memorial's Private Records collection and published sources. The spelling, grammar and punctuation have been copied without alteration from the original document.
'The thing that was so ironical was that all through our training we were taught that the Cong wears black pyjamas and a panama hat and that's your enemy. Well, bugger me, we landed on the HMAS Sydney a couple of miles off Vung Tau and we went in by American landing barge with weapons, ammunition, the whole thing, and every mother's son standing there was dressed in black pyjamas and a panama hat, selling Coca-Cola and pineapples.'
Barry Kelly, 1966, in Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam: Australian voices, William Heinemann, Richmond, 1987, p.35
'The soil in our area is Red Mud, RED-BLOODY-MUD. It drives me mad ... It's the only place in the world where you can be bogged down in mud up to your neck and get dust in your eyes.'
Douglas Bishop, October 1966, Nui Dat, 5 RAR, letter to family
'So we used the camp as a base and sent section strength patrols out to look for the enemy. The rest of us were kept busy killing six inch long scorpions, probably the original landlords of the camp. When the scorpions had been disposed of there were always the leeches to keep one amused. The leeches were in epidemic proportions. Being so close to the river didn't help, and it became a constant battle to keep the buggers off you. Some men had woken up in the morning with a leech under their eyelids or in their mouths.'
Gary McKay, 4 RAR, in his book In good company: One man's war in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, p.90
'We started patrolling pretty much straight away and I can remember my first patrol very well because I was carrying live grenades for the first time. I'd thrown them in basic training, but I went out on this first patrol carrying a live grenade in each of my shirt pockets and that was all I thought about the whole patrol. I didn't give a thought to the Viet Cong. I was just aware that there were live grenades in my pockets.'
Lachlan Irvine, 1968, in Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam: Australian voices, William Heinemann, Richmond, 1987, p.44
'It's getting a bit embarrassing over here now, we have a hard time convincing the Yanks that we are still the best thing since canned beer. They always say "You guys don't get many cong", but we tell them, that they are such a pushover that Charlie goes for them and that he's scared of us, lets hope it stays that way.'
Peter Gates, 7 RAR, July 1967, letter to family
'The only Vietnamese that anyone really likes over here are the little kids. They're great, not a care in the world.'
Peter Gates, 7 RAR, December 1967, letter to family
'Today is my special day of the year, today I am 22, another year older and perhaps wiser and probably a little more tolerant. A bad taste to this note; today we found a body of a man and we left him there. On the way back ... I thought "just a body we say! Once a life, a Man".'
David Clifton, A Squadron, 3 Cavalry Regiment (national serviceman), February 1967, letter to family
'... it's a cease-fire here tomorrow, which is a load of crap, doesn't make any difference to us. Only gives the Nogs a free hand to reorganise themselves. The poor sods in this area at the moment are nearly starving, though full of fight - mainly North Vietnamese regulars too.'
Neil Smith, 8 RAR, during Operation Atherton, December 1969, letter to family
I've had me share of rubber trees
and screamin' sergeant majors
And livin' like a mongrel dog
in those stuffed out canvas cages
Had me share of screamin' jets
and whoopin' bloody rockets,
beetles in me under dacks
bull ants in me pockets,
Had me share of mud'n slush
and rainin' like a bastard
And when it rains, it rains here mate
a fortnight once it lasted
Had this bloody place Vietnam
and a war that ain't fair dinkum
Had the swamps and chook house towns
where everythin' is stinkin'
Had me share of countin' days
and boots with ten foot laces
I've had me share, I've had it mate
and up all them foreign places.
'Last night was another disastrous night for 5 Battalion. Again another platoon walked into a mine field. I won't go into details but when it was all over, & the casualties evacuated by helicopter, only one man was left standing. There were 28 men in the platoon ... The mines were freshly laid, & they think they may have been old Australian mines. The V.C. often do this. They lift our mines & plant them somewhere else, in the path of our troops. ... This all took place pretty close to the base, & we could hear the mines going off & one of the fellows reckoned he could hear screams every so often.'
Peter Groves, 105 Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery (national serviceman), July 1969, letter to family
'The evocative sound of an approaching Huey was always welcome. The rush on to and off a helicopter, often when it was hovering, was an exhilarating experience. The dust and leaves whipped one's face and blinded one. The lurch of the lift-off seemed always to be followed by a turn at [an] improbable angle with bodies being re-arranged by the chopper loadmaster so that limbs were inside the machine.'
Michael O'Brien, 7 RAR, in his book Conscripts and regulars with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin in association with 7RAR Association Inc., St Leonards, 1995, p.26
'I think you are honoured that I am in the army. It's not everyone my age who gets to fight in a war. I don't have any regrets about being called up and I'm even enjoying myself over here. I'm glad I came here now because now that I've been here I think 2 years National Service is a waste if you don't do time in Vietnam. The people who don't come over here don't get anything out of their two years.'
Bruce Wilson, Royal Australian Army Service Corps (national serviceman), October 1969, letter to father
'On 18 November, a concert party, the Queensland Show, played at Luscombe Bowl. There was great relaxation and therapeutic value in these concerts. Soldiers got their most poignant reminders of home. ... Nearly every soldier still has a soft spot for those who had the courage to perform for them in Vietnam.'
Michael O'Brien, 7 RAR, in his book Conscripts and regulars with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin in association with 7RAR Association Inc., St Leonards, 1995, pp.82-3
'It was eerie. The VC weren't running and diving behind trees like you'd expect them to. They were just walking toward us like zombies and every one you knocked down there were two to take his place. It was like shooting ducks in a bloody shooting gallery. I would have killed at least forty blokes that day.'
Allen May, on the Battle of Long Tan, 1966, in Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam: Australian voices, William Heinemanne, Richmond, 1987, p.90
'I think I was a pretty cool-headed person most times, but I think that it eventually got to us, because they were all young people that were coming in with their legs off, multiple wounds, and you were sending home week after week, planes full of young, mutilated people. Most people see amputated limbs as nice rounded finished-off stumps. We didn't get that. We had the ragged ends.'
Fay Lewis, Army nurse, 1970, in Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam: Australian voices, William Heinemanne, Richmond, 1987, p.141
'The Sydney anchored in the harbour of Vung Tau during the evening, and all through the night a water-borne patrol in a rubber dinghy circled the ship dropping 'scare charges' to dissuade any would be Viet Cong from mining the ship.'
Gary McKay, 4 RAR, in his book In good company; One man's war in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin, Sydeny, 1987, p.61
'Results [of civil aid programs] were also forthcoming from the military point of view. ... Villages receiving civic action stated that these activities were one of the major factors in helping them decide to return to the Government. One villager commented that projects were being completed which the Viet Cong had promised years before but had never carried out.'
Ian McNeill, To Long Tan; The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966, Allen & Unwin in association with the AWM, St Leonards, 1993, p.420
'The battalion marched through Sydney ... enthusiastically cheered by the crowd and showered with confetti. ... The march through the city was an important ceremony for many soldiers, particularly those being discharged from the Army soon afterwards. ...It was a great pity that only a small proportion of the National Servicemen who served on the tour of duty took part in the march. Many had already been discharged and were not recalled for the march.'
Michael O'Brien, on returning to Australia after 7 RAR's first tour in 1967-1968, in his book, Conscripts and regulars with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin in association with 7RAR Association Inc., St Leonards, 1995, p.142
'In 24 hours we had gone from a war to our families. I was in the same uniform that I thought looked really good in South Vietnam which now was crumpled, soiled and stained at home. My friends had gone their ways without a murmur and I was back in the world of flush toilets and women. God, it was a shock!!'
David Clifton, A Squadron, 3 Cavalry Regiment (National Serviceman), April 1967, immediately after leaving Army
'Back home you don't publicize the fact that you were in Vietnam, as, in discussing the war you could either be praised for keeping the 'commies' at bay or accused of being a baby killer. It's a lot easier to avoid the subject. The anti-war movement is beginning to gain momentum, the 'All the Way with LBJ' sentiment of a few years earlier is turning sour.'
Geoffrey Jones, 3 RAR, in Vietnam 1968, reflecting after returning home
'The youth of today should look at the men and women on ANZAC and Long Tan Day, these same men and women at age 19+ were at the battle fronts of the world. Be thankful that it is not your son's name on the granite wall at Canberra.'
Nicholas Quigley, 104 Signal Squadron (National Serviceman), in Vietnam 1968-9, reflecting on effects of service in Vietnam
'One officer ... was well acquainted with the province in its original state. In late March and early April 1972 [after the North Vietnamese had invaded South Vietnam and reached Phuoc Tuy province] the situation in Phuoc Tuy had so deteriorated, he said, that "it was for all the world to me as it had been in 1966 at the very beginning ... as if we had never really been there".'
Ian McNeill, The Team; Australian Army advisers in Vietnam, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1984, p470
'Australian soldiers who fought in Vietnam were imbued with the notion of serving an honourable cause at the nation's behest. For most this ethos seems not to have changed. In Vietnam the task force had no sense of defeat. The final collapse, four years sfter the task force withdrawal and at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army, exemplified the tragedy but seemed remote from the experience of the men and their leaders.'
Ian McNeill, in Peter Pierce, Jeffrey Gray and Jeff Doyle (eds), Vietnam days: Australia and the impact of Vietnam, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, 1991, p.61
Compiled by Margaret Thompson
Australian War Memorial