Journeys With My Gun 🔫 Alan Brandt 🔫 My Life Story

Roll of Honour - Vietnam Veterans Walk, Seymour Victoria.

* Pls note - EDITING CONTINUES *****

                    Alan Brandt    
    RAinf RACMP RMP MAITD AUS/US

                  Page  1 of 55

 

* *This is the story of my life (albeit back to front) and I really find it difficult to believe.

* This is not a work of literature & not a novel like that of the great  contemporary authors, nor was it ever intended to be. It is not what you would expect from the great library's, media or magazines of high credibility, it is not expressed in the educated style of podcasts. It is written by someone who spent most of basic school time working on building sites. 


**Some names have been changed to protect the guilty **


                   OVERVIEW 

. My story will take you through my Army experiences with the first Infantry combat Battalion (1RAR) committed to the Vietnam war & later as a recruit Instructor & 8 years in two postings as an Instructor in the Military Police & all this amongst other MP service in Australia, West Germany & England. 

. following the Vietnam disaster, its back in time to read about my scary upbringing as a child by a hateful mother, then my epic journey as a 12/13 year old to a very remote cattle station in Queensland. 'Bulloo Downs' was millions of acres of outback, a hard life, a huge learning curve & included a saga which now seems surreal, was this me or a movie I once saw.

.Meet my new family In Cunnamulla, SW Queensland, the only real one that I had as a kid. All that in a breathtaking introduction to a new life amongst great friends whom I have always missed when life moved on.

. It moved on from the outback to the Army for 20 years with my wife of 54 years...

. As is said, 'but wait there is more'. The S.A. Public Service, a dreadful shock to the system -  after I sneaked in. 

. Then I hit the road as a training consultant 'Craigburn Training Systems'.  After catching my breath exhausted from the financial success & the experiences of consulting to over 100 companies in all levels of Government, business & Industry - along came my 10 year Mining Industry role as a Training & later HR manager which took me around Australia &  the world in my advanced roles representing my company as chairman & member of state & federal coal training, OH&S and Industrial relations in the peak NSW industry committees. 
That was a whirlwind role in a very militant, over paid, spoilt & backward industry. 

 

. Then retirement, in which time we  lost our wonderful youngest Son, Stephen & then in time My Wife Rhonda passed away. These shocking trials amongst mainly dreadful family & in -laws experiences. I dumped the in-laws, the merchants of hate & also sacked a Son whom wasn't there when his mother needed him. One other dumped us lots of years ago & that was great news 😉

. Now It's not all bad, a wonderful  woman Kerry, now my Fiancé appeared on the scene a few years ago when I was at the absolute lowest point in my life.  I wonder who sent her....🧐

Kerry & I spend our retirement travelling as much as we can as both of us are related to Marco Polo. 

So, this is us, for me having survived Polio as a kid,  being booted out of home, stranded in a lonely city far from home & later lost in the wilderness of the great outback. Then the trauma & legacies of war, heart problems, cancer & associated ailments including the Covid virus  - we rock on. 

.lots of photos which tell their own story are included. 

 

 * Use the black & white box above to change pages.

                  

 

 

 

 

Catterick Garrison - North Yorkshire 1976

. Suffocating and pallid when the clock strikes, I remember the past and I weep
                                     . Verlain                                                

. Cry havoc and let slip the Dogs of War

                                      .  Caesar


. They made a wasteland & called it peace      
                                            
                                       . Tasitus

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VIETNAM - this was an 'Unjust'  War - which in antiquity was defined by Philosopher Thomas Aquinas  (1225-1274) as 'One  waged for political reasons' 

Training 🆎 far right. Leeches, Snakes, Mozzies , Rain Forest, a few Good Men and True

The badge of the Battalions of the Infantry Corps known as the Royal Australian Regiment.

Journeys with my Gun

Holsworthy NSW 1965, and I'm in our Army mess hall admiring new wall posters depicting exotic locations, I am 17 & write later in this story about how I got to this point in that time. 

'Saigon !  Where's that ?' 
Three  weeks later my Infantry Battalion was there - Australia had formally entered the Vietnam War & we were the first Australian combat troops in country under command of the first official U.S. combat troops, the 173rd Airborne Brigade. 

There are millions of stories about the Vietnam war (what the Australian Government prefers to call Conflict !   Conflict or not this is my story as a result of my involvement as a regular combat Soldier in the Asian War and importantly my amateur research which led me to present the subject in public forums & indeed write this story.  

Thanks to the Government for sending me to a 'conflict' I couldn't have survived a 'war'

 

Why the story,  well it is supposed to be cathartic to vent the pressure which then assists with the never decreasing anguish & a wont to tell it in a straight forward way, without the endless dreary political waffle & publications from some of those correspondents who in the main were not there at ground level. As well, drive home the reckless incompetence of our Government which went on to deny the dreadful behaviour meted out to my Brothers in Arms, too many now dead, wounded, injured and/or mentally disturbed & their families, left to pick up the pieces of their lives after breakups, breakdowns & many other forms of distress which has meant irretrievable damage to be carried to the end of their days. 
There is no intention to deny the Governments excellent health services to those qualified however,  if you wash & dress the baby and then hide it away to deny its existence in favour of other babies......

There is a conspiracy within the Federal Government to disown the War in Vietnam (this behaviour has been handed down to successive Governments) & anybody who had anything to do with it. There is some 'Virtue Signaling' particularly with the Battle at Long Tan which allows them to ignore that there were many other battles, even referring to Vietnam Veterans Day  as 'Long Tan Day'

.No disrespect to the brave Long Tan Veterans, as it is not about them. If it is popular then the Government will get on board.

* This is not a pretty story & I make no excuses for that, I have spared readers the detailed horrors inflicted in that unjust war. Someone said to me recently that they knew nothing of the Vietnam War & they can thank the Government for that *

Being an avid  amateur photographer many photos are from my own collection, as well as the public domain, the War Museums at Canberra, Sydney, Phillip Island & Ho Chi Minh City, newspapers, books, articles of the period & unknown sources. Many similar photos come from multiple sources. 

I have included my life story as well, 'My Journey to War'  I trust that readers will agree that it it is a worthwhile addition. 

This work is copyright. It is my story, there are no others to acknowledge in the writing.  I do bow my head in the story to the great authors of a few books about the war. 

Where was this place, why are we going, who knows ! We were very naive, badly informed, quite young, just turned 19 for me & all regular Soldiers. National Service came later so we were the only Australian regular combat troops to serve in Vietnam. Our unit, First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. plus an armoured unit,  (Prince of Wales Light Horse)  Aussie & Kiwi Artillery & attached groups were all to be under operational command of the American 173rd Airborne Brigade based at the Bien Hoa airbase near Saigon.  We were to be tasked Initially to assist in the protection of the base & later to engage in offensive operations.

The Australian Army in 1965 was badly run down, There was certainly no public or political interest in a peacetime Army, so we were languishing with little finance, poor clothing & equipment, aging command structure & although we had the very best of senior operational command later in Vietnam it was not the situation at home, in fact it was a very sad story. There was a long history of little to no rank progression (some of the Lance-Jacks looked like they were near retirement) & a noticeable hangover from the second World & Korean wars. The country only had 3 Infantry Battalions supposedly active & the prospect of not being able to repulse a well intended rowboat.

Our Battalion, the 'First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment' was first in line for war deployment & known in this role as the 'Ambrose' Battalion. We were as ready as Pearl Harbour. 

The Battalion

Raised from WW2 units in 1945,  the Battalion which in 1965 consisted of approx 7 to 800 men in 4 rifle companies, 1 support company & 1 HQ was based at Holsworthy on the western side of Sydney NSW.
 As a 17 year old I thought that they were a tough bunch & turned out to be so. Our most famous Soldier was the lovable rogue Kevin 'Dasher' Wheatley VC. deceased 1965. It is important to note that Kevin's family were harassed badly by members of the public in relation to his bravery award.   Shame ! 

Stinking hot & freezing cold with no public transport, being based at Holsworthy meant hitch hiking or walking into the nearest town of Liverpool a few kms away. Rhonda & I were recently married (1964) & as poor as church mice, so getting home to South Granville & later Fairfield West was a drama without a car. I used to walk to Merrylands station in the mornings rather than the closer Granville to save a few miserable cents. We later moved to West Fairfield for cheaper rent, the place was not too flash to put it mildly & the stove was in a poor state however, Rhonda's Grandfather who was a one time acting Lord Mayor of Sydney & well off, gave us a portable stove. The old bastard visited us one day & unhappy with where I had his Granddaughter, threw a tantrum & took his stove away 🖕 such was her family that is, as bad as mine. We were not to know at that time that there was a war just around the corner. 


There were no social graces in the Battalion in those days, so there was no let up in performance demand or family consideration, it was do it 'or else' & that attitude & consequent behaviour was kindly extended to families, unlike the British & American Armies who were much wiser with family matters.

In 1963 unmarried, footloose & in cohorts with my good mate Red (who was later badly wounded) the big smoke (Sydney) Saturday morning on pay week was the plan de jour.

After squandering our meagre funds on booze & staying Saturday night at a flop house (Royal Naval House near Circular Quay) for less than 1 dollar & saving enough on Sunday for a hot dog & train fare home (via an extra 2 hours on the train due to going to sleep) If you noticed that you were going over the Harbour Bridge then you had been asleep. 

This delightful practice was promptly halted one week when I was introduced to a pretty 16 year old, one Rhonda May Ashley of Marrickville NSW who was a receptionist at an Insurance company in Sydney.  

Rhonda and I were married for 54 years & together for 55 years before her passing.  I knew during her poor health that when she passed I would miss her every single day  & now I have missed her every single day. 

With the arrival of 1965 all that was once normal was about to  dramaticaly change & with it, our lives were to change forever.

May 1965 - 'The strangest, eeriest and most obstinate war of the century'

Where it all began - Graduation ! from Recruit Training,, Wagga NSW. I had arrived here homeless with no family, so this was home. The Instructors were old school, lots of experience but violent ( yes sir, no sir) 🆎 10th in line front rank.

Happiness is lunch midway between our Recruit Training 30km route march.

After recruit training , Graduation from Infantry Corps Training at Ingleburn NSW. I had an option of posting to the Armoured Corps but my mates were going to Infantry, so I followed them.

Deadley destination, the ancient Country of Nam Viet (Vietnam)

Preparation

'Grab your gear' or in the parlance 'Mount up'   Other than that we were shown a supposedly secret film on Communist torture techniques, following that I thought about admitting that I was a member of a long line of family cowards & would they mind if I gave the whole thing a miss. ☮️
That activity by the way, was called 'preparation' & it is said that we underwent some pre deployment training, if so it didn't include me. 

History reveals that the rush to secure equipment & supplies was simply a farce, with Ordanance confused & refusing to part with requested equipment  (Who is going to sign for this 🧐 )  WW2 ammo didn't seem to be a problem, although one might think that the hierarchy would know that ammo loses its charge over time🥺 & it had. 

Bailing out was just not on, the majority were professional Soldiers. People of the time may well not have realised that regular Soldiers that they had condemned had no choice & in those days the penalties from within were fierce & risks of being branded a 'deserter' were still in the public minds.

I had however, at the time been selected for transfer to the SAS (Special Air Service) I had originally applied to a visiting panel a year prior but heard nothing in reply, so I thought stuff them ! & applied again, on facing the panel I was immediately informed that I was now selected & that I was a year too young on the previous application.

However, all postings out of the unit were immediately frozen on notice of deployment anyway so that was the end of that.

Sad Times

These were sad times as I strongly suspected that there would not be any support for my wife Rhonda who was expecting our first child within weeks. We both came from dysfunctional families, her Stepfather was a drunk & her Brother a thug.  My mob were as cold as ice & remained so (I had without choice left home at age 12/13 to work on a far off cattle station)  but as we had little choice, we decided that she should go to stay with my Mother but alas, as expected she was soon renting a flat with no Government or family interest. Rhonda & baby had a very difficult year & I could do nothing but worry about them. 

I dedicate this story to Rhonda & all the women like her who lived through that hell, sharing the grief & poor treatment. Now like many of our comrades they too are passing away  without ever seeing human justice  & long been abandoned by this 'Lucky Country' 

Dean was born about 2 weeks after I left & of course was a year old before we met at Sydney Airport,  Dean was named after my Uncle Dean & Rhonda's Father, Martin. The photograph was my first of Dean which I covered in plastic, cardboard & tape & carried it with me for a year, a week & a day through the muck & mire. 
My mate Red & I sat in a gun pit & each smoked a cigar in celebration when finally informed of Dean's arrival due to a very poor mail service. (at one stage Australian postal workers refused to handle our mail) 🖕

I still have the photo but not the Son who decided when we finally met that he didn't like me & he has never for a moment changed his mind.   Oh Dear ! 😳

Dean, first photo . Carried in waterproofing for the duration.

Depiction of the 'Domino Principle' at the Vietnam Veterans Museum at Port Phillip, Victoria ( if one country falls to communists, the others will follow)

Amongst the hurry up, the protests started, the press swarmed & caused a lot of harm at times with poor reporting which continued into our time in Vietnam.
Some Soldiers applied to be excused deployment to Vietnam for various reasons & some were successful, including Officers, Warrant Officers & Non commisioned Officers. Those who were too young (under 19) were shifted into nearby huts which in 1965 became the site for the raising of the 5th Battalion RAR, which was branded very early as the 'Tiger' Battalion for whatever unknown reason.
I remain suspicious that their practice almost from day one of sneaking around town aquiring  Amoco Fuel 'Put a Tiger in your Tank' advertising signs & displaying them around their huts had something to do with it.
The name is more of a fairy tale than a Tigers tail.  🤔

The rest of us who were qualified to go wanted to for perceived noble reasons, for me it definitely was about duty, for what I was paid for & for my mates who would go as well. This decision was rightly politics free for us, the politicians knew what's best 🤥 & the majority of the public expected us to go.

The defaulters were condemned & nightly news reports would show them being dragged away. The rest of us believed we had a duty & it had absolutely nothing to do with 'wanting' to go to war.  As it was, the public made us pay for it on return & that ugly behaviour was eagerly supported by the complicit Government who went to ground.
The Politicians never once went in to bat for us in the face of the abuse & rejection by the public. 

Contrary to reports, at times during the period of the war we were not permitted to wear the Queens 👑 uniform in Australia due to the hostility of some of the public. 

The motto of the Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment is 'Duty First' & when called we stood up.

Now, after all that dreadful experience of Vietnam we have had the unbelievable bullshit that was Iraq, Timor, Cambodia & now Afghanistan. These later 'conflicts' are trumped up by the Government  as 'Noble' causes, handing out huge benefits & medals accompanied by endless propaganda to Soldiers to buy the support of the populace. Another disgrace ignored by the public. 
When will this lucky (stupid) country, which I am no longer proud of ever learn 🤔 

By the way, I am certain that most people don't realise that the term 'The Lucky Country' which when coined by Donald Horne went a little further than those two words, 

(Inter-Alia)  'Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. ........... 'In the 'Lucky' style we have never earned our democracy, we simply went along with some British habits' 

Donald Horne was appalled at the mis use of what he intended. 

 

 

 

 

Boarding the converted aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney -27 May 1965 at Garden Island, Sydney.

Departure

We departed Holsworthy Barracks after a farewell speech from our Executive Officer (XO) Major John Essex-Clark, whom I remember stated inter alia ' We may meet again on this parade ground'  however, that was not to be as the turnover during our tour of duty was quite large & on return we were moved to new barracks but those words prior to departure have always stuck in my mind. The Major, an Englishman was affectionately known as the 'Big E'.

Those in the know will attest to the  fact that many of us probably owe our lives to his professionalism in the field. Whilst we had the greatest admiration for the bravery & patriotism of the Americans, there remained a difference in military operation procedures which kept us at arms length at times. The Big 'E kept a tight reign on our welfare, holding the Americans at bay at times whilst getting the job done.

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was another grave matter regarding their commitment & other nasty issues. Now the Vietnamese parade on special occasions in Australia like Anzac Day & I harbour nasty reservations. The dreadful monument in Adelaide dedicated to the Aussie/ARVN comradeship is a farce. We did not trust them, had nothing to do with them & language was an issue. 

The 'Big E' is photographed left below,  others L to R are myself, the President   of International Society of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade,  Keith Payne VC  (the only living recipient of the original VC ) and an Australian Officer at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Canberra 2005. 

Allies & Enemies - about time I enunciated this simply; 

Allies - u.s. ✅ Australia,✅ South Korea  🤔 Thailand, ✅ ARVN 🤔 NZ,✅ Spain, ✅Taiwan ✅ Australian Salvation Army.✅

 

Enemies - North Vietnam, ☠️China, ☠️ Russia, ☠️ National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) ☠️ East Germany ☠️ & support from most of the communist bloc countries,  ☠️certain Australian Unions, (particularly Wharfies)  ☠️ Australian Postal workers, ☠️ lots of Australian Communist/ Socialist inclined, ☠️ Jane Fonda ☠️ et al. ☠️

The Communist Monash University labour Club (Marxist, Leninist, Maoist) in Melbourne raised money for the North Vietnamese Army & got up to other mischief as well. ☠️

Some other countries like Sweden 😡 & Poland 😡 supplied aid to the North Vietnamese. Their intentions may have been honorable however, the aid would not have reached the needy & would have been used against the Allies.  
Sweden 😡 also stopped the supply of 'Carl Gustaff' anti tank weapons to the U.S. Military apparently in protest to tunnel destruction methods. 
I have absolutely no doubt that much aid was sent to North Vietnam from Australia, 


Those Australian businesses & individuals who supported the Communists may want to reflect on the long term suffering,  mass torture, killing & incarceration inflicted by the Communists on the people of the South before, during & after their successful invasion in 1975 ☠️

There was a mountain of dissent in the community, mainly about conscription to an extent that the Government were too frightened to lock up most of those avoiding the draft, as well as individuals & organisations who broke the law in relation to their anti conscription behaviours, like some religious groups. 

 

I was honoured to lay the official Brigade wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Canberra 2005 - L to R, John Essex-Clarke, Author, American Brigade Representative, Keith Payne VC and Australian Officer.

After all the hassles we were on our way as the trucks rumbled solemnly  past the Army Married Quarters near the Barracks heading for the Naval shipyards at Garden Island. It was there on the suburban Holsworthy street that an event occurred which I will never forget. Several women some carrying young children began to run crying after the trucks, it broke me up I don't mind saying as the reality of the occasion finally arrived. Otherwise it was a very quiet ride as the guys were contemplating their own reality - they we're off to war. 

 

Approx 800 Soldiers aboard

Soldiers of the Queen, abandoned by their Country.

The Voyage  🚣‍♀️ 

I recently walked through  the area opposite Garden Island where a number of people held a vigil awaiting the departure of HMAS Sydney on the 27 May 1965,  two days after Rhonda's  birthday & two weeks before the birth of our first child. 

 It all seemed so surreal, remembering  the carrier just across the inlet all those years ago. All was quiet around the ship on that afternoon due to security concerns with unauthorised  persons being kept away from the vessel.

Then at 1 a.m next morning under cover of darkness with dimmed navigation lights, the old tub slipped away escorted by the 1952 frigate HMS Duchess  (on loan from the British Navy as a temporary replacement for the loss of HMAS Voyager) Duchess was later joined by HMAS Parramatta & Vampire (and probably The Anzac)
The 'Duchess' was purchased by the Australian Government about 4 years later & was decommissioned in 1977 & sold for scrap in 1984. HMAS Vendetta was the only Australian built ship to serve in Vietnam waters. 

Just to keep us on our toes, General Sukarno of Indonesia had threatened to attack the ship (this threat was most probably due to the Malaysian- Indonesian emergency in which Australia was involved)  if the carrier entered Indonesian waters, so whilst our escorts kept watch, especially through the Bismarck Archipelago, the rest of us slept.

HMAS Sydney affectionately known as the 'Vung Tau Ferry '

This poor old girl was launched as HMS 'Terrible' by the British Navy in 1944 & was commissioned into the Australian Navy as HMAS Sydney in 1947. She was much loved by the Sailors & did her job well in several trips to Vietnam. The Ship was in part a training vessel & had trainees aboard. 

During the commissioning  ceremony on board, a Cat 🐈 wandered through the official scene like it owned the joint. Cats of course are not alien to ships, in fact on the contrary, they have served well in their long service of rodent control as well as companionship for lonely & salty souls. 

The successive journeys to Vietnam were supported by the commissioning of the freighters 'Jeparit' which ferried stores to & fro Vietnam & 'Boonaroo' which sailed to Cam Ranh Bay & Singapore. These Vessels were commissioned because the Unions refused to load them. Australian vessels were hampered by Australian Unions as well during WW2.  Wharfies were hated by the Vietnam troops & these Communist puppets, like Politicians walked away without a whimper from the civilian population during the Vietnam war, as they did after their dreadful & criminal behaviour including theft of vital supplies in WW2.

I was constantly reminded of those times when for a period of 10 years in a later life when as part of my job as a manager, I was required to negotiate with the CFMEU which harboured a pack of the worst group of antagonist people imaginable, born & bred by miserable Lilly livered mine managers only interested in their bonus & size of the coal heap at 5pm.

As I seemed to be nearby a lot of the history of this time, It also came to pass that I stood security onboard the freighter  'Jeparit' as a Military Policeman circa 1969 when posted to the MP Company at South Head (Watson's Bay) Sydney. This duty signaled the end of my 6 Infantry years  & the start of my 14 years as a Corporal & later WO1 in the Military Police. 

Oil painting HMAS Sydney AWM

At Sea

Hot 🥵 & crowded below, learning to sleep in hammocks with all the noise that the Navy could muster, not to mention the guys after their two large Cans ++  each day. My mate Bob & I sat for hours in the cabs of trucks on the flight deck for fresh air & gazed into the humid nights quietly thinking about our reception on arrival at the shores of Vietnam. Life on board put me off the Navy, us grunts couldn't handle life on the 7 Seas. 

Big money Crown & Anchor Dice games were rife onboard, not authorised of course & one of our more notable Soldiers paid me to act as 'Cocky' (lookout) for his game in case authority appeared on the scene. 

Sailing was smooth & we were entertained by the 'Duchess'  coming alongside to give us a demonstration of firing a broadside, we eagerly rushed to the starboard side & were greatly disappointed by the little ships pop guns. Physical training was conducted throughout our tropical cruise including weapon drills, live firing rifles & machine guns at balloons & lobbing grenades into the deep. We also attended operations groups & Vietnamese Language lessons which were totally awful (like talking to a Duck) A big waste of time. 

Crossing the Equator ceromonies were conducted with much merriment & after 11 days we reckoned we had enough of this Navy lark & looked forward to getting on with it as we crossed in the crippling heat of the South China Sea. 

We were buzzed by a UFO 🛸 enroute which arrived and departed at blistering speed livening the place up & we were mightily sick of how many times there were announcements of 'Man the Port Seaboat' & the strange habit of the Captain conducting inspections at 11pm every night. The Navy guys were great & very professional but we all agreed that this business was not for us diggers. 

Already, home seemed so far away in time & space & we wondered if we would ever see it again. 🤔

Arrival

In the early hours the Ship dropped anchor off the quiet & one time French resort town of Cap St Jaques (Vung Tau) about one hour short of Saigon via the Saigon river. (I was aboard the cruise ship 'Star Princess' when it dropped anchor in the same place many years later, disembarking on that occasion was a little more gentlemanly) 
Next order of business was to decide how to get off the ship which turned out to be exciting & entertaining. We were loaded to the hilt, most grunts carried extremely heavy loads including our weapons & ammo, I also had a 10 kg field radio, batteries & aerials plus we all had personal gear & if you fell over someone had to pick you up. Others of course were carrying heavy M60 machine guns . 

Anyway it was all sorted out, all we had to do was climb down a 25m cargo net 🥺 to waiting & bobbing landing craft. 
(Should you wish to dive for military items including weapons , I will be pleased to send the co ordinates.) I managed to make it including the final leap of faith from net to boat 🚣‍♂️ 

Finally ashore to a non eventful landing ( one of the Australian journalists reported that we stormed ashore into battle) & into the arms of the Theatre Commander, General Westmoreland who greeted us with stern looks, probably our grotty gear put him off as we looked like we had already been to war 🤔

Westmoreland was to be relieved of his command as a consequence of failing to attempt to pacify the population, refusing to arm the Government troops with modern rifles & equipment, continuing with failed tactics, particularly with big unit operations including 'search & destroy' operations & 'body count' measures of success.

As the top two in the U.S. Govt. had no military experience and the one General who did was not in the decision making loop - it took 4 years to finally decide to relieve Westmoreland of his command. 

Anyway, there we were & after staggering ashore at Vung Tau we traveled to a nearby airfield & were flown to the busiest airbase in the world, Bien Hoa, approx. 30km north of Saigon. We were unloaded at one end of one of the dual airstrips, watching the constant stream of aircraft coming & going, like Starfighters which were an aircraft with a dubious safety record, it was said that if you wanted one, all you had to do was to buy a block of land & wait 🙁 As well, F4 Phantoms, Super Sabres, C130 transports, Lockheed U2s Sky Raiders, F105 Thunderchiefs,  F101 Voodoos, P3 Orions et al.

Often these runways were covered in foam to facilitate damaged aircraft landings. 

whilst hanging around we heard rifle fire from the trees nearby & soon realised that the bad guys were firing at the aircraft, when drawing attention to our American guide, he replied that it was some old Viet Cong guy who was a bad shot so therefore he was not attacked in case he was replaced by a better shot !!  and that my friends is gospel...

I have heard the story told from a different direction, that & other accounts are absolutely untrue.

An amazing country with an incomprehensible history

Point 6 was not a problem ! The locals had no knowledge that Australia which they referred to as ‘Uc Da Lai’ existed, when explained they would ask ‘What part of America is that ?’

Why are we here !

Well, we were sold a pup by some skunks whom we trusted & who were partly responsible for the unjust war or conflict as the skunks 🦨 liked to call it. The main person of interest was one Mr Robert Menzies, (aka 'Pig Iron Bob') Prime Minister of Australia, a person who always wanted to be English. However, having Australian born parents must have been an embarrassment for him but he skulked out of Australia soon after his dreadful incompetence in dragging us to war. The old Goat was appointed none other than Lord & Warden of the old Cinque Ports in England. 
Bob eventually returned to Australia & is interred  here.

Menzies was not invited into the war by the Americans or by the South Vietnamese Government, he invited himself on dubious grounds with no understanding of Vietnam, its history, culture or its people, let alone the history of its never ending wars plus the long involvement of the Russians, U.S. French & other dabblers in the history  of the country. He obviously knew nought or ignored stark realities about Vietnam during  the Japanese war in China, the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, Chiang Kai Shek, the Nationalist leader or how many foes Vietnam has thrown out of their country over eons of time, including Kublai Khan, no less than three times ! Menzies alarm clock at least should have warned him about those who dared to subdue the Vietnamese as China was thrown out of Vietnam more times than the Cat, even though at one stage they ruled Tonkin Vietnam for a thousand years (of course Menzies may have chosen to ignore history) 

Not only did Menzies not get a reply for his offer of an Infantry Battalion but he hurried the Vietnamese for a decision to meet a political end.😳 Next, he informs the allies that   Australia could not afford to lose this Battalion so please give us light duties or whatever, thankfully the Americans & Australian commanders put paid to that little embarrassing gem of an idea quick smart.

Menzies had henchmen of course whom do not need to be remembered & later there was another sorry PM, Harold Holt & he, 'All the way with LBJ' is another very bad story. 

Menzies & Holt (Who also had no idea what was going on)  then were party to the killing, maiming & cruelty of millions of civilians & military personnel & the massive destruction  across Vietnam Laos & Cambodia in one of the utmost unjust wars in history, which resonates vividly in Veterans memories to this day but unfortunately not the Public or Government. 
Much venerated, Menzies never wore any recriminations in regard to his idle folly as the public we're not interested in the frailty of politicians but rather blamed the Soldiers with the dreadful consequences prevailing to this day.

Then there was the U.S. Government with a continuous flawed Presidency in regards to U.S. policy in Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia. 
As far back as Eisenhower, each of these Presidents were manifestly incompetent in dealing with the massive injustices of supporting the cruel French invaders to the tune of billions of dollars & promoting the endless death & suffering in Vietnam.


Main stars in later times being 'Corn Pone' Johnson  & 'Tricky Dicky' Nixon. (Tricky is infamous for many things including his blame on the NY Jewish community for the washed over American Massacre at My Lai 🤔


Old Corne Pone Johnson had tapped Nixon's phone & recorded a conversation which is now public between Tricky & the then President of South Vietnam, encouraging the President not to accept any peace ☮️ moves being made at the time until Tricky could get the US Presidency in 18 months down the track !  he told the Vietnamese President that he would give a better deal !!  thereby encouraging the continuation of the  shocking toll of death, suffering & destruction for his own benefit. 

Johnson, kept the conversation secret for a long time as he did not want Nixon to know that his phone was tapped.  ☎️

I am constantly amazed at the hero worship of mongrel political murderers through commission or omission throughout history. Too many  of the guilty to list & no interest in their criminal behaviour from the worshippers anyway.

If you are a mass murderer or celebrity mongrel - you will never be short of fans 😤

A young person apparently deceased is being transported by a disabled person amongst the traffic in Saigon. A heartbreaking sight as I photographed the scene from the window of a taxi.

National Servicemen

It is difficult to imagine the trauma that the draft caused to young men & their families during the Vietnam era  however, later as Recruit Training Instructors we had no mercy for them as our job would have a direct effect on whether they would survive or not & whether they liked it or not was not an issue. 
So, 12 weeks for these lads at the Recruit Training Centre 'Kapooka' near the freezing, stinking hot (the locals hated our guts) 'Queen City of the South West'  Wagga Wagga,  NSW.

Work on them we surely did, for me it was approx two & a half years as an Instructor, starting with aquiring  initial qualifications to train recruits in Drill, Weapons & Fieldcraft, then on the job with 9x40 minute training sessions per day & 5 on Saturday mornings for more than 2 years. Intensive & tiring but I enjoyed it, finding it satisfying & important. I also discovered that I had what it took to teach & that discovery led me eventually into a rest of working life role in the development of people & organisations. Anyway, back to my Nasho students ...

 

 

Although Nashos were compelled to train, I was impressed with their attitude & dedication to learn & my long term verdict after it is all over is that Nashos, were as good a Soldier as the regulars however, they did  not think like regulars seeing commitment as just a job & in the main later returning to their former lives which of course was ok.  They unfortunately also march on Anzac Day as a seperate group, therefore having a narrow view of Military life. Regulars carried years of experience & had a stronger view of cameraderie, Army, The Corps & career. 

This all meant that the Nashos banded together in their own association rather than banding with their unit & having their own 'civilian' uniform & a medal from the Government basically & definitely awarded for 'not volunteering' or 'being conscripted'which is strange but the Government in doing so should have given the regulars a medal 'for Volunteering' or have I got that messed up 🤔

I am not criticising these fine men but I am disappointed that they did not bond with whom they served at Unit level. (disappointed I said) 

A DRAFT SYSTEM TO MESS WITH.  Of course if the Government organised it then it had to be more than a little suspect in regards to two facts -  The law of chance (a doubtful concept) which excluded many young men who were celebrities & many who were from well heeled families with endless escape methods 🤔

Many other categories also excluded many others & avoidance by many who otherwise may have been liable for the draft depleted the intakes;

. Conscientious Objectors, both for moral grounds in three categories that is, against war, against the Vietnam war in particular or claiming that the draft was undemocratic,

These people were given a hard time by authorities but were supported by 'resistance' organisations, 


. Many went on the run by leaving the country (some seeking asylum) or going underground,

 

. 35,000 Australian men took the opportunity of avoidance by joining the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) for 6 years. (OMG)  

Having also trained CMF In Sydney & Adelaide as part of my permanent role, I am afraid to report that it was a hopeless task as they had too many opportunities to opt in & out as it suited them, available time disallowed any training of substance, too many had too many clerical & other time wasting tasks to keep them at the orderly room. No chance of any projects as if it required responsibility to do something, then they would not turn up, too many had ulterior motives for being in the CMF, especially some Officers who found that a commission was helpful in the ladder of commerce. The CMF were referred to as 'Woftams' - 'Waste of effing time and money'  An inexpensive Government smokescreen to con the public that we had/have a reliable & well trained armed force.  

What we do have today in 2021 is a paltry Army armed with 'Excuse Me' cards led by a ratio of approx 1 General to 251 other Soldiers.

Some Interesting notes;

. Many applied to opt out on religious  grounds, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, 

. One group went to Vietnam as entertainers to avoid the draft,

. Avoidance was assisted by claiming attendance at University or a special status of work,

. The sham of many 'Rich Kids' & 'celebrities' avoiding the draft was a dreadful Government crime,

. None of those drafted were forced to serve in Vietnam & therefore served in non combat postings in Australia or overseas,

Many stayed on in the Army after completing National Service, 

The Numbers - 800,000 were initially liable over the years but only 64,000 served, approx 16,000 served in Vietnam (not all in combat roles) very sadly, approx 200 were killed. 

To have been pressed into service & killed or wounded in that unjust war must remain a life long heavy burden for families, particularly that the Government puts a lot of effort into sweeping the war under the carpet. 😓

                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home 1965 - 66

Politicians Ignored History 🤔

Politicians also ignored the situation at the time of our deployment between North & South Vietnam, particularly the murderous & corrupt behaviour of the South Vietnamese government towards their own people, as well the incompetent buffoons who run our country must surely have known that the Americans got up to a lot of dreadful behaviour in the country before the start of the so called 'American War'  through the auspices of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA which were apparently headquartered in the Phillipines & later Vietnam. 

Trieu Au , Vietnams ' Joan of Arc' led a thousand Vietnamese mounted on Elephants against the Chinese - 3rd Century AD

A 'Claytons' Vietnamese War History

Trie Au pictured above was only the first of Vietnamese female war heroes, the country has been embroiled in wars & parts thereof  almost continuously  from at least the Chinese occupation of Vietnamese Tonkin which lasted 1,000 years to the year 938.

Vietnam's existence was traced back to as far back as 4,000 years in 1965 & its military to before the common era. 

In 1945 Ho Chi Minh soon to be the first President of Vietnam,  justified a deal with the French to oust the Nationalist Chinese at the time, 'Better to sniff a bit of French shit briefly, than to eat Chinese shit for the rest of our lives'

Three other worshipped females in history are Trung Tra, her Sisters Trung Nhi and Phung Thi Chinn who led the first major insurrection against China. These famous women all committed suicide when their endevours failed.                        

 

Great Books about a Defiant Country

A few great books for those interested in the detail which I cannot cover here;

. Vietnam a History - Stanley Karnow, my copy unknown at the time of purchase is a black market version acquired in Ho Chi Minh City. Stanley's work is a great credit to his understanding of Vietnam's history.

       
.  Vietnam - Bruce Davies &  Gary McKay, - Bruce was a member of my platoon in Vietnam & one of our best Soldiers. 


         
. Unheralded Victory - Mark W Woodruff,  gives a  much more supportive account of U.S. forces & is somewhat dismissive of Australian troops. 

      
. First to Fight - Bob Breen - direct history of our Battalion, as very little was recorded regarding our tour of duty in 1965-66. It is still imagined by some that the Australian Involvement in the Vietnam War only started with the advent of the Australian Task Force in 1966.   As well, it is said that our U.S. parent Unit was not good at keeping records.                             
              

.ChickenHawk - Robert Mason. Great read. 
                   
. No need for Heroes - Sandy MacGregor.  An arrogant & highly efficient Engineer Officer who led the Australian Engineer group in one of the most significant events in the Vietnam War that is, our Brigades discovery in early 1966 of the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. 

Sandy came home to a shocking future.


. Tears on my Pillow - Narelle Beiderman - The Nurses -  all heroes. 


. Minefields and Miniskirts -Siobhan McHugh - The entertainers, some remain our friends to this day.


. Victor Six - David Christian - David is the most decorated U.S. Soldier 🥈🏅from the war in Vietnam with whom I had many a conversation with aboard the Cruise Ship 'Star Princess' en route from Thailand to Venice years ago. 

                         
. Our Vietnam - AJL Langguth      

                  
. Vietnam - Paul Ham        

                               
. Blue Lanyard Red Banner - Lex McAulay   

Lex was a linguist with our Battalion & a very accomplished author, Lex wrote about our group discovering the fabled Cu Chi tunnels in Jan 1966 as no one else had !!

. Message from Nam - Danielle Steele a paperback novel on a real life story from the Vietnam War. 

. The Phoenix Program - Douglas Valentine. (If the U.S. behaviour was not bad enough) 

 

 

Important developments after AD 938

The Chinese returned to battle on several occasions over the ensuing years but were finally driven out in 1426. With and beyond that the Vietnamese have shown that they are sincerely nationalistic and will fight to the last man & woman & those who have failed to comprehend their attitudes &  behaviour have paid the price.

China invited itself in many more times in various ways & were shown the door yet again as late as 1979, four years after the end of the so called American War.                 

Rival Dynasties emerged in the ancient Capital of Hue over time &  France 🇫🇷 appeared once again to occupy the South (then known as CoChin China)  & subsequently after a year of fighting occupied the North then known as Tonkin.                                             

The French were cruel in their 100 year occupation of Vietnam, beheading or trampling to death by Elephants & other means dissenters whilst enriching themselves and the Government of France. The locals always fought back in various ways, resulting in the slaughter of hordes of adversaries over all those years and remains today an almost unimaginable history of warfare.                        

The French later developed an opium refinery with devastating consequences for the locals. Vietnamese addiction became so bad that one third of French income came from Opium. Rubber plantations were another source of deadly business with 12,000 deaths at one Michelin plantation between 1917 & 1944 .  France made other good business through coal & rice. These companies of which many remain today are left to answer for their sins.
All that glitters is not French including the 'Michelin Man' 

Vietnam was difficult to occupy for the French, covering 126,000 sq miles of huge mountainous regions housing exotic vegetation & extremely primitive natives. The amazing Montagnard mountain people who fought over time with the French & later with the U.S. armed with crossbows, spears and American carbines. 
As well, the invaders had to cope with huge flat & wetlands plus the incredible heat, humidity, disease & rebellion including deadly reprisals by the Viet Minh.   

At the end of the war over a million Vietnamese settled in the U.S. including some of the Montagnard people who settled in North Carolina, today the population there may exceed 2,000.

 



 

Halong Bay, the 'Bay of the descending Dragon'

Other Historical Visitors

The Mongol Emporer, Kublai Khan galloped into Vietnam, (originally called Nam Viet) in the 13th Century and was ejected three times. During the last great battle in the Red River Valley in 1287, the Vietnamese routed 300,000 Mongol troops. Much later in life the famous Vietnamese Commander Giap evoked the memory of this battle as he approached  and then thrashed the almighty French at Dien Ben Phu in 1954 which is in the area of the last  Mongol battle. This great victory ejected the French from the Country forever. 

It should be noted that the French after being ejected from Vietnam created for themselves another bloody history of death & destruction in French Algeria, this foray was branded as ' The French Genocide' of Algeria. 

 

It is little known that the Vietnamese in their military history laid a 100 year siege to eventually destroy the Kingdom of Champa, which was situated in a large part of the South of Vietnam. Over 40,000 inhabitants of this ancient land perished in the slaughter.      

The only remains of Champa today are its magnificent stone sculptures.

After the route of Champa, the Ming Dynasty Chinese appeared again in Vietnam & imposed a harsh occupation on its inhabitants, although it was a brief rule, the Chinese ransacked the Country and applied the harshest of rules with the harshest of penalties for non compliance.  

Later In this period the Chinese smelling a Rat in the developing resurgence of the locals over time became unsettled & suspicious. They began behaving in defensive ways like avoiding the streets, building defences & not venturing out at night as an Insurrection spread around the Country.  

Le Loi , Emperor of Vietnam eventually struck  & deployed platoons of Elephants against the Chinese hordes who were mounted on horses,  defeating the Chinese finally in a field near Hanoi. Le loi  generously sent the invaders home on 500 Junks ⛵️ & thousands of horses 🐴.

The drama that  was Vietnam continued unabated through time up to & beyond the Korean War, with  severe French rule, a cruel & an absolutely incompetent & totally corrupt South Vietnamese Govt. Innocent civilians were nothing more than a football to to be kicked around over time by the politics of Nationalist China, France, the U. S,  Britain & by the occupation of the Japanese. 

Ho Chi Minh, was a friend & supporter of the U.S. & its allies during the war with the Chinese, who had invaded Manchuria and an ally during the time of the Japanese occupation of Vietnam.  As a result Ho Chi Minh who in 1946 became the first President of Vietnam expected to have the support of the Americans & British for his newly declared Republic of Vietnam. Uncle Ho as he was affectionately known, even included parts of the American constitution in his development of the Vietnam constitution.  Ho liked America & Americans & It is believed that although communist, his intentions were only to unite a Vietnamese Republic. 

The Americans and British thought otherwise...




 

Names

'Vietnam' (originaly Nam Viet) the name only came into being after 1954. After 1908, the majority of Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos was collectively known as French IndoChina, more ancient names included 'Tonkin' the North, Annan -Central & CochinChina - the South.  At that time, Thailand was known as Siam. 

Uncle Ho, a man of many names.

Ho Chi Minh - or any of his many names

Ho was born Ngu Yen Sinh Cung in 1890 & went on to being proclaimed President of the Republic in 1946, he certainly was an Inspirational leader with a very humble start in life. Ho had up to 17 names in his lifetime. 

Ho was for a time a Teacher, a Stoker & Galley Boy on a French freighter, an  assistant pastry chef 👩‍🍳 at a London Hotel, worked in the U.S, Canada  & was an Interpreter for The Chinese Nationalist Leader, Shiang Kai Shek.

As far back as 1919 when increasing his political life after stints in Paris & Moscow, he appealed unsuccessfully to President Woodrow Wilson for support for Vietnam independence.

Around that time Ho organised the militant Communist group known as the Viet Minh, in time during the great continuing  struggle, yet another tragedy was to befall his country as the Japanese invaded IndoChina in 1940. By 1944, one in 10 Vietnamese had perished from starvation.

Uncle Ho passed away in 1969 and is interred In Hanoi. 

It is interesting to note that the French displayed little resistance to the Japanese invaders in WW2  (as the British did in Singapore capitulating almost without a whimper to the Japanese.)  The French must have known that they would eventually regain control of Vietnam after the defeat of the Japs. 

later, French President, Charles De Gaull was said to have 'Signed the death warrant' of the French in Vietnam by his continued occupation, attitude & behaviour towards the country after the ousting of the Japanese. The end was near. 

 

Japanese depose the French 1945

Uncle Ho was now expecting after his assistance to the allies in WW2 that  the allies would now support Vietnam in their bid for independence however, after the defeat of the Japs British & Indian troops freed the French from prisons & dismissed the authority of the Viet Minh.

As WW2 ended, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Vietnamese state & of course the French opposed. The British Commander, Gracey passed power back to the French & the U.S. organised 150,000 Chinese Nationalist troops to occupy Vietnam for the purpose of removing the Japanese. 🇯🇵

At some stage  after the war, Vietnam was offered to the Nationalist Chinese under Shiang Kai Shek but he famously stated when rejecting the offer from the victorious allies 'The Vietnamese will never assimilate with the Chinese'.   He was correct about that. 

The French arrived in force again soon after, which invited terror attacks from the Viet Minh. Years of killing ensued with the U.S. paying most of the costs of the French slaughter, as much as $1 billion a year. In fact the U.S. paid for 80% of the French occupation costs.

The French installed a former Vietnam  Emperor, Bao Dai as puppet head of state in 1949. More renowned for his playboy lifestyle in Paris after being formerly thrown out by the Viet Minh, he was succeeded by President Diem and eventually returned to Paris to end his life in his champagne & women lifestyle on the French Riviera. 🥂

Australian Military Advisors.

Australia sent a team of expert trainers to Vietnam circa 1962 known as the Training Team Vietnam or 'The Team'  It is my considered opinion that a no more professional group of Soldiers ever left Australia.  This small group of mostly officers & senior NCO's (later included lesser ranks) were responsible for the combat training of South Vietnamese Soldiers (ARVN) from the Delta to the DMZ. 

The Australian advisory group eventually consisted of 100 personnel & were the first non combat Aussies into the war zones. I use the term non combat lightly as they accompanied their charges into battle & were the most decorated Aussies from the war winning over 100 bravery awards including 4 VC.  Not bad, as the Australian Govt do not approve medals 🎖 especially foreign  without usually a fight with Veterans for recognition.

Hero's of the Vietnam War - Wheatley, Badcoe, Simpson & Payne, members of the Australian Training Team Vietnam 🇻🇳

An Australian Captain who was a member of the Australian Training Team with tribesmen of the Vietnamese Mountain People known as the Montagnard.

American Advisors and CIA

The story of U.S. advisors, instructors & operatives of  the OSS (Office of Strategic Services)  in Vietnam during the French IndoChina War, prior to the so called 'real American War' era which was circa 1960- 1975 is a huge story on its own. In fact it is nigh impossible to pick a start date for U.S. intervention as the first U.S military casualty occurred in 1945 when Col.Peter Dewey Was killed by Viet Minh when he failed to stop at a roadblock.

In 1954 at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, two U.S airmen were killed ferrying supplies to the beleaguered French, James McGovern aka 'Earthquake McGoon' & co pilot, Wallace Buford. This U.S. air support became unofficially known as 'Air America' 

Richard Fitzgibbon USAF, was murdered in Vietnam by another U.S. airman in 1956. 

In 1959  two U.S. advisors were killed in an attack on their base near Saigon along with three Vietnamese Including a young boy.

In 1962, there were approx. 11,000 U.S. military advisors in Vietnam (9,500 in 1968) and in that year 53 military personnel had been killed. The advisory plan over the years despite the professionalism & bravery of the Americans was severely flawed due to an attitude by Americans that this was a quick fix. As well, dreadful communication failures in training and battle between advisors & the Army of the Republic & suspicion by the Vietnamese that the U.S. would take over command. There were also language barriers & cultural issues which were seen to be insurmountable.

Douglas Valentines book, 'The Phoenix Program' is a serious indictment on U.S. policy in Vietnam, describing it as 'The CIA operation aimed at destroying the Viet Cong infrastructure thoroughly' conveys the hideousness of the Vietnam War'   This program was aimed initially at intelligence gathering but quickly deteriorated into assassination murder & the liquidation of Communists, The scale of the carnage was enormous, more than 50,000 South Vietnamese died as a result of the Phoenix program (1965-1972)

The detail of American cruelty in surveillance, control, entrapment, imprisonments & torture, is too shocking to describe. Death was cast upon many civilians as well as combatants & those suspected of political crimes or political interference. 

The CIA allowed Opium & Heroin to flow from it's secret bases in Laos to senior people both Government & Military on its payroll in South Vietnam. 

'The CIA's common theme is its ability   to deceive and propagandise the American public through its impenetrable Government sanctioned  shield of official secrecy & deniability' 

                           Douglas Valentine.

This 'Airline' and the CIA involvement in Johnson's & Nixon's 'Secret' war in Laos was most likely the enabler for the CIA to become a military force in its own right. 

                                 

 

 

 

Nam Rom River at Dien Bien Phu - Coffee available now at the King Cafe’

55 Days at Dien Bien Phu

Our date with destiny may very well have been set around August 1945. 
The Japanese surrendered (after they had mounted a coup against the French & declared IndoChina independent) then enabling Ho Chi Minh to declare Vietnam Independent in 1946. Ho Chi Minh then believing he would have support from the allies in securing his country as a republic.

Nationalist Chinese & British troops were assigned around that time to supervise the Japanese withdrawal from Vietnam and in so doing countered the influence & control of the Vietnamese Communists forces, the Viet Minh.  As a result of this action & the anti communist sentiment prevailing, the occupation forces of Nationalist China & Britain allowed the French to regain control of the country.

Fate was the hunter, open warfare then ensued when French Forces as a result of a minor incident, bombarded the Port of Haiphong near Hanoi & killed thousands of civilians which caused open warfare with the Viet Minh who attacked French positions in Haiphong & Hanoi

 

Enter the Dragon, Vo Nguyen Giap who although militarily untrained became Vietnam's General of Military forces & architect of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. He was educated in France & spent years as a teacher there as well as editing socialist newspapers. He was finally forced to leave the country in exile, leaving his family to be arrested & in some cases executed by the French. Giap has been described as one of history's greatest military strategists, he lived to age 102 & died in 2013.

The French were to discover that they had awakened a 'sleeping giant & filled it with a terrible resolve' as Yamamoto believed he had done at Pearl Harbour. The period to follow was known as the 'First Indo China War'

The Great Vietnamese General Giap (Jap)

De Castries meets Giap

1953 and French influence was waning & the Viet Mihn's popularity was rising at an alarming rate which caused the French Leader, De Castries to make a fateful decision, which was to occupy the town of Dien Bien Phu, 300 km from Hanoi near the Laotian border for the purpose of cutting enemy supply lines into Laos & to establish a base for operations against the Viet Minh. 

This place & point in time arose from the ongoing First Indochina War which had ensued for 8 years of the French fighting the Viet Minh since the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh in 1946.

In November of 1953, the French had moved more than 9,000 troops into the area & commenced preparations for a garrison. By the end of November, 6 Airborne Battalions had occupied Dien Bien Phu a doubtful area to defend with 4,000 tonnes of supplies which was far less than required.

It should be noted that the French forces consisted of mainly Morrocan, Algerian, French Foreign Legion, Laotian, Vietnamese & Cambodian troops. The Viet Minh were supported by East Germany, Soviet, Chinese & American Weapons & Chinese advisors.
Lai Chau, a semi independent region of Northern Vietnam was allied to the French at the time of Dien Bein Phu & it's French troops were destroyed by the Viet Minh whilst apparently en route to the battle for Dien Bien Phu. less than 200 from a force of 2,100 made it to Dien Bien Phu. 

The Final French Garrison consisted of a refurbished airstrip, aircraft, 16,000 troops, plus a few tanks, artillery & machine guns. 
The U.S. chipped in to assist the French with 2 Squadrons of B-26 Bombers & 37 Transport (CIA) contract Pilots who flew almost 700 sorties (1 sortie = 1 flight )  in support. 

General Giap (Jap)  a little smirched by poor decisions he made in a previous battle, learned from his mistakes & spent months preparing for the engagement to come by moving 50,000 regular troops quietly into the surrounding well wooded hills above Dien Bien Phu. His troops carried, dragged &  transported by truck, cart & Peugeot bicycles, tonnes of stores, ammunition & weapons which Included captured U.S. 105mm Howitzer artillery. These guns were dragged piece by piece up the steep hillsides & after digging through the tops of hills, the guns were sited & camouflaged overlooking the enemy. 

As well, field guns & anti aircraft guns of Soviet origin outnumbering French guns were sited in strategic positions.

The French were completely surrounded.

 

 

French strongholds at Dien Bein Phu.

Montagnard tribesman with French troops.

A Romantic Touch

The French had set up a number of strongholds around the old airstrip & famously called them by French  female names such as, Isabelle, Elaine, Claudine, Dominique, Huguette, Anne-Marie, Beatrice & Gabrielle. 

The French like the U.S. in the War to follow (65/75)  aired a sense of invincibility, this fight was going to be a pushover & to ensure it was a comfortable as possible scrap, De Castries had possumed in 48,000 bottles of fine vintage wine -  'Sacre Bleu' 

 

 

Another Hell on Earth

On March 13 1954, The Viet Minh Commander unleashed a massive assault on French strong holds, overrunning three in very short order within days. The airfield & aircraft were soon rendered unusable. (Vietminh Soldiers paid a quiet visit to the airfield before the attack rendering parts of the runway unusable & poured water into aircraft tanks)  with the French then relying on airdrops which soon were landing supplies in Communist newly held territory, the Communist artillery bombardments were massive & relentless & French wounded were denied evacuation.  Reportedly, several thousand French troops deserted & hid in caves along the nearby Nam River & spending their time seizing supplies air dropped which were intended for the Garrison. 

Around this stage, the attacking  Viet Minh had sustained huge losses, causing a suspension in hostilities & if not for the Chinese reinforcing them with more troops, 'Katyushsa' multi-tube rockets 🧨 & Engineers, the Communist mission may have failed. 

The Viet Minh who liked digging holes as their successors continued to do when defending the famous Cu Chi Tunnels in the 'American War' began
digging a massive maze of trenches leading up to the French garrison. 

By sheer determination, human wave attacks & no consideration for human loss, the Communists overrun the garrison in 55 days in one of the most dreadful engagements in more modern history, the killing, misery & gallantry on both sides was stuff of pure Legend.

Whilst the Viet Minh may have had cause to withdraw, they would never have surrendered and have always made it patently clear that Vietnam will fight to the last man & woman. 

More reasons for 'Pig Iron' Bob, the U.S, NZ, South Korea, the Phillipines, Thailand et al to have done their homework 📚 

12, 000 French POW’s rounded up after the VietMinh Victory at Dien Bien Phu.

End of French Occupation

This action signaled the end of the terrible reign of the French in Vietnam, like many other countries the invaders were left with the dreadful legacy of hundreds of thousands of lost lives, cruelty almost beyond imagination & a country robbed of its resources in over a century of occupation.  There are other dreadful  French legacies in far flung territories as well. 

France lost in the order of 3,000 KIA & 7,000 WIA, 12000 were captured, all Tanks were destroyed, 62 Aircraft destroyed & 170 damaged.

The Communists lost 4,000 KIA & 9,000 WIA. 

Although it was an outstanding victory for Giap (Jap) and Vietnam, it is timely to note that the Vietnamese regimes have been no less murderous or cruel to their own people. The Viet Cong who were to fight later in the 'American war' were to discover that they too were to be seen as a threat to Communist Vietnam & were treated accordingly. The South Vietnamese Government and former Governments  that the allies were there to protect & to rid them of oppression, were just as bad as the Communists from within & from the North including China

As a result of the French defeat, the French Government resigned.

 

 

Halong Bay, a world heritage site.

The Aftermath

The U.S President, Eisenhower coins the phrase 'Domino Theory' in relation to an imagined threat of Communism leading to a fall of S.E. Asian Countries & beyond as a result of the Communist victory at Dien Bien Phu.

This theory was possibly incorrect based on what was known in history or should have been known by the WW2 allies.  This probability of course never came to pass but importantly without the consideration of history it was a reasonable theory which did not eventuate.

Regardless of the theorising about the bogey man Communism, it remains history that the leader, Ho Chi Minh & his citizens wanted their country back. Vietnam had been forced into battle for thousands  of years to achieve that aim & there was to be no relenting whatever the cost.  It is unfortunately true as history shows that the U.S. were absolutely paranoid about the 'Reds' (hence the saying 'Reds under the bed') & definitely escalated the war against Vietnam with a solid air of invincibility & gave very little consideration of the responsibility of Government (ARVN) troops to protect their own country before intervention. 

The U.S. Military were not defeated as a fighting force but harboured an absolute fear of China & Russia. The U.S. could have wiped North Vietnam off the map, as at one stage, nuclear weapons were considered but the U.S. Government through dreadful political behaviour  turned the American people against them, the Government buckled under the pressure & walked away (albeit not too soon) Leaving the South of Vietnam to the retribution of the North. The U.S made several key promises to the South in regards to their security when the U.S started to withdraw from the country. It was said that this included the use of tactical nuclear weapons should the North break the peace. 

The U.S. honoured none of their promises, so when the North eventually invaded the South with devastating fury in 1975, thousands more died, including members of the Viet Cong whom the North did not trust ! 

The Political Solution- The Geneva Accords, split the country at the 17th parrallel, dividing North & South- this agreement also stipulated that elections be conducted within 2 years for the purpose of Unification.

The Election never occurred as the U.S & South Vietnam knew what the outcome would be (Communist win)  and scuttled the agreement. The U.S. were required to remove all troops as part of this agreement- but not the Communists who maintained large numbers in the South (said to be 300,000) thereby setting an advantage for the North which also kept huge stores in the South. 🤔

Another massive war was now inevitable. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Unit patch is seen 3rd down in the left column.

I did fancy this little chap, M79 40mm H.E. Grenade launche, aka - ‘Thumper’ & ‘Wombat Gun’ developed by TRW USA it replaced rifle grenades & was utilised during the Vietnam War. Max. 400m range with a killing radius of 5m. It was a popular weapon but Charlie did not like it one bit. It was replaced in time by the M203/M320.

1963-1965 Good years for killing and Coups

So, here we are pushing in to 1964 JFK gone,  South Vietnamese troops are copping a hiding from the VC,  Buddhist protesters & children are killed by Government troops in the Ancient capital of Hue, 'Corn Pone ' Johnson becomes President,  ( 'All the the way with LBJ'  says the new right honourable Aussie Prime Minister, Harry Holt 🥺)

Harry unfortunately drowned in 1967. 

Just when you think it can't get worse, the U.S. backs a Military Coup against the very unpopular and incompetent South Vietnam President Diem, he & his Brother were brutally murdered as a result.

Unbelievably, there were no less than 12 Governments in the South due to Military Coups between 1963 -65. Surely that fact alone would cause some pause for thought prior to deployment. 

 

Communist burial site for 300 civilians massacred at the battle for Hue

Enter the Viet Cong

Now the North under Uncle Ho & Giap will fight the South for the treachery of the Paris Accords. 
Supply routes are developed to support guerrilla attacks in the South, with the main artery becoming known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail & in part 'The Street without Joy' 
The 'official' date of this 'American War' was around 1960 and the first U.S. Soldiers of this period were killed by guerrillas at Bien Hoa after a raid on their quarters

This group of guerrillas formed part of what was to be known by the North as the military wing of the NLF, the  National liberation front or 'Viet Cong' (Vietnamese Communists) 

In May 1961, the venerated President Kennedy mounts a secret operation, (secret from the U.S. public) by sending 400 Green Berets & Helicopters 🚁 against the VC. In an ill considered escalation of U.S. involvement. 

Spring Showers - Agent Orange

One of the 'Rainbow' herbicides containing very nasty dioxins. The name simply came from the colour of the containing drums which had an Orange 🍊 colour band ( there were other nasties in other coloured drums) 

The U.S. DVA list & provide veteran care for a range of deadly diseases caused by AO, with no need to prove exposure, as U.S. Vets who served anywhere in Vietnam between 1962 -1975 on land or inland waters are covered. The spray was a so called 'tactical defoliant' designed to kill & deny foliage cover to the enemy. 

The U.S. authorised by JFK sprayed 20 million gallons of liquid death  (90m litres) from aircraft. The President also massively armed the South & also authorised the use of Napalm a highly flammable mixture of thickened petrol & other nasties ⛽️ used in incendiary devices & designed to set 'sticky fire' to all manner of things including human flesh. 

The Australian Goverment response to the guilt of Agent Orange is - 

'Not Guilty Your Honour'  ☠️☠️☠️☠️ Whilst employing the jurisprudence  of a Kangaroo Court. 🦘

 

 

American R&R at Kings Cross Sydney in the late 70’s. This photo was iconic of the period which saw thousands pour into the City to the delight of young Girls. At the time I was an Investigator with the Military Police & responsible along with my partner(old definition) to apprehend AWOL U.S. Servicemen across NSW. I remained ignorant at the time to the crime that was the Vietnam War & later felt uneasy about returning these fine young men to the U.S. authorities at Garden Island. To rationalise this conundrum, I believed that they would not survive adrift in Australia & as a consequence would eventually be returned to face the war or the stockade. I am happy that we returned them as ‘surrendered’ rather than ‘arrested’ which would have mitigated their penalty.

Game On

Where are we ? Patience please we are still 3 years from standing on the end of the U.S. airbase at Bien Hoa near Saigon. ( the cavalry are coming, so settle down, I'm only 16 in 1962 for Christ' sake) 

 

U.S.S. Maddox Debacle

In August 1964 the destroyer U.S.S. Maddox in company with the U.S.S. Turner Joy were in the Tonkin Gulf ( East China Sea) reportedly collecting intelligence & providing some support to Vietnamese raids inland, when reports were received of imminent Communist patrol boat attacks on these vessels. 

What was to follow is said to be the initiator of the 'American War' - It appears that some sort of scuffles eventuated with shots including torpedos being fired at both ships. Apparently other U.S. ships including the carrier U.S.S. 'Ticonderoga' were in the area providing bombardment support. 

Reports indicated that two of the patrol boats had been destroyed.

There is still today much doubt regarding the correctness of these encounters, with a recon. pilot overhead reporting no incidents but rather the ships were firing at shadows. The Captain of the Maddox also questioned his crew's version of events. However, there must have been huge tension aboard the 3 vessels involved, Maddox, Turner Joy & Ticonderoga due to the skirmishes encountered on previous days thereby heightening rapid responses. 

These doubtful events &  Johnson's unbridled power gave him the excuse he seemingly wanted to raise the ante & unleash air raids on North Vietnam thus heralding the ' American War'

 

 

 

Choosing Sides

As Johnson hurls jets into North Vietnam in retaliation to the Tonkin incident, it seems that this was the time that the war escalated to 'boots on the ground' Most countries wisely opt out and more than a few meddle on the sidelines. The Soviets continue to pour all manner of support into the North such as hardware, medical, technical, food & ammunition. 
China also increases its aid to the North including weapons & missile advisors. 

The whole communist bloc gave some degree of support to the North. 

Chinese surface to air missiles & Corne Pone's refusal to attack them near the Chinese border caused many lives of very brave U.S. pilots not to mention massive costs in operation & loss of aircraft flying 'Downtown'

Other players which supplied military support to the  U.S. were South Korea (which had an extremely bad reputation for cruelty during the war,)  Phillipines, Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, Taiwan & Spain.

                      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saigon 1963, a Buddhist Monks self immolation after being doused with petrol in protest at the treatment of Buddhists at the hands of the South Vietnamese Government.

The Monk' car seen in the 1963 fire. I discovered it in a Temple a few years ago.


The American Soldiers.

Brave, patriotic to a fault, friendly, badly led & apparently poorly trained at times, poorly armed with the introduction of the original M16 rifle which jammed too often & took too long to fix. The M14 was the fallback rifle of 7.62 caliber & remained partly in service until approx 1970, its wooden stock was also subject to damage due to the weather conditions.

The final M16 variant was a great weapon but it like too much uncontrolled/unaccounted/black market American equipment fell into the wrong hands too often.

The M16 was one of the weapons that I had to teach & be assessed on for promotion to Warrant Officer at Canungra in 1977. Due to my background it was an easy task  however, I did not have to worry about it as my assessor a respected Infantry Warrant Officer Class One arrived drunk from a heavy lunch & went to sleep during my lesson, I passed with flying colours.

The Professional US Soldier was badly let down by their Goverment at the hands of McNamara due to his so called recruitment policy known as ' MacNamaras Morons'

like Australia, Americans had many similar means to avoid the draft & as a consequence, the military were short of men. McNamara introduced 'Project 100,000' designed to recruit sub standard men to make up the numbers. 

Johnson refererd to these recruits as 'Second Class Fellows' by the end of the war, 345,000 unqualified men were drafted into the military. These men lowered physical & mental standards, some could not read or write, some were missing fingers or were blind in one eye, others suffered mental disorders, other illnesses & reportedly criminal records. 
6,000 of these men were killed in action at a ratio of 3.1 to qualified men, 21,000 were wounded many with extreme wounds, not to mention the psychological trauma.

These unfortunate conscripts  were a danger to themselves as well as to professional Soldiers. 
Towards the latter end of the war, the US Army was in huge disarray, some of that may well be attributable to the manic behaviour & murder rate fuelled by drugs & booze & may have included the disabled in their many forms. 🤔

The Marines

March 1965 & 2 Battalions of the U.S. Marines wade ashore at Da Nang to a staged hero's welcome. The American War was now underway, with this unit responsible for the defence of the huge airbase at Da Nang & with orders not to patrol more than 80 miles from the base.

The patrol order was soon cancelled &   'Search & Destroy' operations commenced with the Marines initially attacking Vietcong forces around Chu Lai.

COMBAT AUSSIES JOIN IN ! 

Hot on their heels was the first ground 'Combat' unit, committed  to the American War, the 173rd Airborne  Brigade, which included our Unit, 1RAR & supporting components responsible for the protection of the Airbase at Bien Hoa near Saigon & soon after to air mobile  operations against the enemy in the Corps area extending North to Kontum.

'Pedro' from Hay NSW at the Plain of Reeds. Great Guy, Soldier & member of the Bien Hoa Harriers. RIP

Kim Phuc , 9 years of age photographed by Nick Ut following a Napalm attack by South Vietnamese forces. Kim was severely burnt but was initially supported by the Goverment which sent her to study at the University of Havana in Cuba, there she met her husband to be & on their way to Russia applied for Political Asylum on a stop in Canada. Kim led an amazing life although continuing in pain, she was an author & goodwill ambassador for UNESCO . Kim has 2 kids & lives near Toronto. 'Forgiveness made me free from hatred' (Kim)

Beware of everyone

As a Recruit Training Instructor, I helped to train hundreds of men in the operation of this 7.62 SLR rifle.

The Mobile Operations

Our platoon never worked together ! because we provided 'front line' communications wherever it was required & became part of the sub unit that we were assigned to, so new friends were scarce as we were moved about as the situation required, I spent time with the Unit emplaning Officer, Pioneer platoon, C Company  & I forget who else.  We trudged about the boonies laying line & affecting the best comms possible in the most challenging situations, only good operators got good messages through in bad conditions with Helicopter Pilots, Armour, bases, forward fire controllers, sub units & pizza parlours 🤔 There was no fixed 'Front Lines' & no security unless you were in a rear echelon & that is another story. 

A typical day at the office meant loading up on open semi trailers referred to appropriately as 'Cattle Trucks' & conveyed to the chopper pad known as 'The Snakepit' 🐍 here there could be a 100 choppers, Bell HU1  (Hueys) and variants, mostly carrying 10 troops, 2 pilots & side gunner meant they were overloaded at the start. 
Flights were harrowing, choppers often struggled to take off, a little tree pruning, the omni presence of other choppers, wind & rain, overweight & no business class.  Then there was the landing....

 

Aboard a tracked carrier in the stinking mud. The carrier that I was on backed into a tree & unleashed a hive of large black wasps which set about attacking all present. Some ended up in hospital, some temporarily blinded & I was bitten on the head which caused days of blinding headaches, I went to see the Doctor who 'patted me on the head' this incident may confirm to some why I am not the full quid.