Vietnam Diary – Part 3

Still a ‘Reo’

July 1, 1969

Dixie-Bashing.

The cooks prepare a menu of three choices for each meal and about 200 people eat in this mess. I have to clean the mess out, wash pots as well as clean out the grease traps. There is a lot of work to do.

The weekly rations came in today and needed to be packed and sorted.

I get a rest day after this duty so I applied for a seat on the Wallaby to Vung Tau next Monday

Our unit has been in Vietnam since 1965. Soldiers rotate through it and progressively replace others who are due to go home. There is a clear status symbol in this place and it is linked to the amount of time that one has served. Those with only a little time (‘short timers’) before their return Australia (RTA) are regarded highly. I will be regarded as a ‘Reo’ (reinforcement) until I have at least racked up 100 days in country.

July 2

Dixie Bashing.

Our dunnies (toilets) are built like a ‘long drop bog’ and are ‘five seaters’. Occasionally they get burned off with diesel to keep them hygienic. This makes the seats pretty hot, so it is not a good time to go just after a burn off. Tonight, after work, someone threw a smoke grenade down the chimney when the house was full. It was really funny to watch five blokes exit quickly in a cloud of yellow smoke as they pulled up their strides and at the same time tried to wipe watering eyes.

July 3

Dixie Bashing.

In a scrounge through the lines I found that one of the officers had thrown out a couple of folding chairs with broken armrests. With a bit of ingenuity these can be fixed and then we’ll have a couple more for our tent for use as movie chairs.

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The OR’s Mess at Nui Dat.

July 4

US Independence Day

Still Dixie Bashing.

The American Armed Forces Radio has been full of stuff about Independence Day. The Yanks sure go on with a lot of crap about their special events. They are right in your face – no form of any understatement whatsoever. This was a real culture shock for us!

I am finding that I am still getting bad prickly heat. The hot weather is pretty uncomfortable. The humidity must be about 90% and it makes everything really sticky.

Today I had to clean the stoves and ovens as well as the dixies.

July 5

Still Dixie Bashing.

Tonight we could feel a B52 strike on the Long Hai Hills about seven miles away from us. We couldn’t hear the planes, as they fly at about 35,000 feet all the way from Thailand and Guam, but the ground here was shaking from the explosion of the bombs they were dropping all that distance away.

July 6

Sunday. 284 and a wakey!

My last day of Mess Duty.

The best thing about today was knocking off early, seeing that dinner is at 5.30 pm on Sundays.

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Ron and Nick in a music taping session in our tent.

July 7

Rest Day after Mess Duties.

I caught "Wallaby Two" (Caribou flight) at 9.30 am to Vung Tau. After changing into some civvies in 2 Platoon’s lines and getting a haircut. I caught up with Ken Wreidt and Max Dong again.

I went into town and bought some silk to send home and some souvenirs. The silk cost 66 Piaster per metre.

Then I went back to the base and got changed into my greens and then caught the Wallaby bus back to Charlie Ramp to catch "Wallaby Three" home.

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The market at Vung Tau

July 8

I am not tasked for any work today. With nothing to do, I helped in a work party which was replacing the sandbagged blast walls around our tents with corrugated iron walls that are filled with sand..

In the afternoon I found some time to wrap up some parcels to send home and had to re-wrap them after dropping them while running through a downpour on the way to the post office.

July 9

Another rest day.

Something is wrong with the system as this is the rest day second in three days; I probably won’t get another for a few months. I spent nearly all day sleeping, doing some washing and odd jobs around the tent.

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Catching up on the news from home.

July 10

Today I went out in a cargo truck to FSB (Fire Support Base) Nelson. We went in a large convoy of twenty trucks and had an APC escort. We arrived at 9.00 am to pull the base out and we began loading stores even though they were still firing mortars and artil­lery.

Lunch was out of ration packs today. We use American ration packs. Each one has a tin of cake or biscuits, a tin of food such as ham, tin of desert, jam, packet of instant cocoa, toilet paper, matches, 4 cigarettes, can opener, cream substitute, sugar, salt and a plastic spoon.

The FSB was about half a mile off the main road. We left at 1.30 pm and I was only one of the few trucks who got back to the main road without getting bogged. I towed a Howitzer back to 101 Field Battery, travelling in a convoy with APC’s, gun jeeps, tanks and helicopters. I think this is a pretty safe trip with all that protection.

The afternoon was finished off by doing the ration run to the mess, which meant delivering a Landrover full of food-stores.

The very last activity of today was a rifle inspection.

The Radio Australia News announced that the 17th. Intake of National Servicemen went in today. That means that my replacement is now in the army. I wonder whether he knows what is in front of him?

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A typical Fire Support Base.

July 11

I’m on the CSM’s work party today. We laid a lot of gravel outside the Company Command Post to stop the area getting so muddy. This took all day.

I reckon "Tassie Smith", our CSM, is a pretty good bloke to work for. Unless we tell him to take a smoko, he just keeps working all the time. All the diggers respect him a lot.

July 12

On the CSM’s work party again. We started to dig a drain around the Command Post but decided that it was a useless task. In the end we did our best to free a number of existing drains that were blocked up with silt and we spent the rest of the afternoon painting one of the shower blocks.

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Home away from home.

July 13

Sunday. 277 and a wakey!

I went down to report to the CSM again, but he didn’t want us. In the end we spent all day loafing around while the others dug and cleaned their weapon pits.

July 14

On the CSM’s work party again. I reckon this must be the price I pay for having all those rest days! I spent all day cutting grass around the lines with a slasher in preparation for a lines inspection tomorrow. We picked up a load of sticks and branches and took them to the tip.

I was an escort at a charge today. One fellow from 8 Petroleum Platoon was charged with going to sleep on picket duty. The Major said that he would be pretty lenient and gave him fourteen days CB (Confined to Barracks) and seven extra pickets. I wouldn’t like to see him get tough!

A show group from Sydney was on at Luscombe Bowl today.

July 15

Today I worked for CSM again. We dismantled and filled in the old Command Post. I managed to drop a twelve feet long length of 6" x 6" timber on my foot in the process.

To finish we collected rubbish and then knocked off and had a shower at 4.30 pm.

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Brian recording music in the tent.

July 16

I spent all day spraying long grass around the concertina fences to kill it.

We used three quarters of a drum of diesel oil in mixing the spray and finished just before a lot of really heavy rain.

July 17

Payday. Today, I’m working for the CSM again and we cut the grass along the road near HQ. As well, we tidied up the briefing room.

I bought a tape recorder at the PX during our break for lunch.

In the afternoon we put a new toilet in the officers lines to replace the one we dug out the other day.

July 18

Working for CSM again. He isn’t here today and gave us orders yesterday to level the top off the Command Post so that it could be concreted. I’m not sure about what it will feel like to be in afterwards. I hope I’m not in it when the concrete goes in.

We finished the job at 3.00 pm so we called it a day.

July 19

Today, I became a garbo again driving the garbage truck on the 1ATF garbage run – we have to collect from 1 ARV, Provosts and PW Compound, HQ and TFMA.

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1OFP (Ordinance Field Park), Nui Dat

After finishing, we saw a show put on by a group of Sydney entertainers and spent some time at the new 5 RAR pool (an above ground pool near the water point). We also filled in some time at the Everyman’s Club and knocked off at 5.00 pm. This run is pretty easy compared to the CSM’s garbage run and it is hard to fill in the whole day. If we get back to the compound too early, they will expect us to do it all the time.

We have a new bore at the water point and the water is heavily chlorinated and looks like second hand bath water. No wonder most people here drink gof­fer or cordial rather than straight water.

July 20

Sunday – 270 and a wakey!

I get a break today and am assigned to drive the beach trip to Vung Tau. It’s my first trip outside the wire for a while.

I had a great day relaxing at the beach and at the Bad­coe Club. After a swim in the sea, I went to the American PX and then came back to the Badcoe Club for a hamburger and chips for lunch. After lunch we went for a swim in the pool and watched a Vietnamese show.

We assembled everyone and got ready to leave at 4.00 pm with a truckload of drunks to transport back to Nui Dat. It is illegal to bring beer into the Dat, but I reckon these blokes must have smuggled at least ten cases through today.

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Enjoying the beach at Vung Tau

July 21

First Moon Landing

Somehow, I’m back on the CSM’s work party. We spent all day pulling down dead branches from the rubber trees and taking them to the tip. I learnt how to tie crown knots and splice rope today. The hoist on the truck stopped working so I had to take it to the LAD for repairs.

We all took some time out during the day to keep an eye on the TV set in the recreation hut and watch the men on the moon. It seems incredible that man can actually be on the moon, let alone that we can see it on TV during a war.

We finished off the day by cleaning up the canteen.

The Artillery fired consistently tonight. There is a bang and a whoosh and then some time later, a second bang when the shell explodes. Our gunners like Australian Ammo best as they only have to set the fuse. With American Ammo, they have to make up the fuse, prime it and set it in the round.

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The TFMA Garbage Truck.

July 22

What a day! My first driving job for ages and I knock myself out while changing a tyre.

On the second run to Van Kiep, I had a flat and while lowering the spare from its cradle with the crank handle, it slipped, spun, and hit me in the face. This was the second puncture as I had to fix a flat before I could even get out on the road. I ended up laying on the road out cold with blood everywhere waiting for an Ambulance to come out and get me. The blokes thought that I might get dusted off but I think that the choppers had more serious things to do.

When I got to 8 Field Ambulance I had 4 stitches put in the bridge of my nose. It doesn’t seem to be broken and I think the stitches hurt even more than the crank handle did. I spent all afternoon in the hospital and didn’t get back to the yard in time for a turn as duty driver.

July 23

I went back to see the doctor in the morning. My nose is not broken but I have a couple of beautiful black eyes. I was not given any duties for the day so I spent all day lying down on my bed.

In the afternoon I had a booster cholera and plague injection and taped some music on my recorder.

Fourteen of our blokes were charged today for having food in their lines.

July 24

A rest day. I wrote some letters home and tape recorded some more music.

We were told today of a new mail system using R&R flights. It should only take two days to get here instead of the four or five it has taken until now.

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Keeping up with the mail.

July 25

In the morning I had to change a drum of hydraulic oil on my truck as the hoist reservoir had water in it. Then I took a load of Ammo from the Ammo point to Eagle Farm from where the Chinooks operate. The load was lifted straight out of the back of the truck by a helicopter. The down draught was terribly strong and nearly blew me over from 20 yards away.

In the afternoon I was duty driver on the Landrover doing odd messages around the base The mail came in at night rather than the morning. It seems the new system is going to change things a bit.

July 26

Today we took a company from 6 RAR who had a day’s R&C (Rest & Care) down to Vung Tau for a beach trip. We went down in a convoy from the gate at 9.15 am and came back in a convoy at 3.30 pm It was a pretty slow trip with a Provost escort; none of our usual speed.

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‘The Flags’ (showing all the countries giving aid to Sth Vietnam) was a popular meeting place in Vung Tau.

July 27

Sunday – 263 and a wakey!

On rest all day. Twelve people got charged for not being on pill parade today and were all fined $10 by the OC.

July 28

I worked to Vung Tau all day with a shotgun from 17 Construction Squadron. We took blast rock down and 3/4" gravel back. I had lunch at the Badcoe Club and saw John Morelli who was with me at 2 RTB. He is in 6 RAR and meeting him called for a long yarn about life in Vietnam.

I have a picket tonight and have drawn third shift from 3.00 am to 7 am.

The airstrip was buzzed by a flight of US Huey Cobra’s today. They went backwards, forwards and sideways. We were all waiting to see if they would stand them on their tails and fly pointing upwards like they sometimes do. Lots of blokes were out taking photos.

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US Huey Cobra.

July 29

This morning we had to locate and service all the trailers that belong to us. They are scattered all over the place; at the transport yard, 52 Supply Platoon, at the Re-Arming Point, and over at 176 Air Despatch. Later we had to take them to be inspected so that filled in some more time.

In the afternoon I was in the workshop trying to help the mechanics to get a truck tray to sit straight on the chassis of a truck . It needs new hoist mounting brackets. Dumping rock while on various angles has bent them out of alignment.

The CO closed down the boozer today because he found a beer can in one of the drains and claimed it was evidence of the men drinking in the lines. He has some really funny ideas. One day he charged a bloke for speeding while he was travelling the other way in a Landrover. He would have no idea how fast he was going.

July 30

I went to Vung Tau all day working for 17 Construc­tion Squadron. We took blast rock down and returned with sand. We did three trips all together which means about 140 miles.

I was with Brian Egan from 87 so it was like being in the old team again.

Nothing exciting today – just avoiding the usual Nog­gie traffic.

July 31

I was meant to be working to Vung Tau all clay, but I was reassigned to Van Kicp. The new road works have started again as it has been dry for the last few days. We only did three loads.

The engineers are making the road from Dat Do to Phuc Le (Baria). The blast rock we are carrying is forming the base stage.

Kevin Goulder killed a five foot long snake in our lines this afternoon.

Because of the wet, the sullage pits around the lines aren’t emptying properly so we have to use mobile showers that run off a pump on a truck. Washing machines are also out so we have to wash socks and things by hand.

We have finally nagged our corporal enough for him to get off his bum and get a food locker for our sec­tion.

The DM went home today.

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Our lines in the dry season were dusty and they turned to pure mud in the ‘wet’.

August 1

Another day on the CSM’s garbage run. I went to the doctor first thing in the morning to see about some sort of dermatitis or skin infection that I have on my face.

After we had finished the garbage run, Max Farr and I decided to go on a scenic tour of the Dat and have a look around the base. Nui Dat would have a circumference of about three miles and there is a lot to see.

The MP’s run a Prisoner of War compound and they call it the Playboy Club. There was no one in the compound today as we drove past.

We ended up in the laterite pit; full of greasy wet clay, and practiced some six wheel drive control as we slipped all over the road.

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Our new tent after rain.

August 2

I was originally tasked to do the garbage run again but I kicked up enough of a stink, after having done it yesterday, to be reassigned to a TCV (Troop Carrying Vehicle).

I went out to FSB Thrust and delivered stores. We had a ration pack lunch out there and then drove out with an APC escort to a new land clearing team camp way out in the scrub toward Xuyan Loc.

Although we are meant to load our rifles every time we leave the Dat, we normally don’t even put a magazine on as it is too much trouble to unload and clear them every time we return. Today, however, I had a full magazine on and my ammo belt with another seven close by. Even the birds moving in the scrub gave me a start and caused a quick response with a moment of concern. A couple of mines exploding as they were cleared didn’t help my nerves either.

The whole day was full of cross country driving along a bulldozer track surrounded by 10 feet high scrub and bamboo. While we were there, a bulldozer ran over an anti personnel mine and some shrapnel hit one of the ‘Grunts’ (Infantrymen). A little further from where we turned off the main road, a Landrover hit a mine and a Dust-off chopper came out to get them.

We passed a Vietnamese funeral in the hamlet near FSB Thrust. The Kiwi’s had shot up a woman last night when she didn’t stop at the checkpoint. We returned back to the Dat in 6 RAR’s convoy, travelling  through Dat Do and Long Dien.

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Funeral Hearse

August 3

S
unday. 255 and a wakey!

Up at 5.30 am to take ARVN and 5 RAR to an operation from Horseshoe Hill. I had stores which I had to offload at a small bridge which was too small for us to cross. These were taken the rest of the way by APC’s.

In the afternoon we repaired a few Landrover tyres and took 5 truckloads of 5 RAR out to the Horse­shoe. After coming back to the compound, we had to change all the trucks from centre seating to high sides in the pouring rain.

The Bridge on Route 15 to Vung Tau was blown up last night and the road was red all day. That meant that the trucks from 2 Platoon could not get up to help us and so it took us all day to move these troops on our own.

August 4

I managed to waste all morning mucking around doing nothing in the workshop.

After lunch, I took a truck to do a few loads of rock to 3 Cavalry Regiment but the drag link fell off and I lost all my steering. I had to get Spike from the LAD to come out to fix it. We also thought that the brakes were sticking but it was only a bent backing plate.

The artillery had a drop short today which landed in Baria and killed four people.

August 5

Our section carted blast rock to Van Kiep this morning. I had Corporal Johnston in my truck all day with the radio. In the afternoon we carried 3" screenings to the temporary pontoon bridge on Route 15.

The VC blew about 120 feet out of the centre of the bridge. The rock is very sticky and glues on to the tuck tray like cement. You really have to work the truck to get the rock out. The best way is by backing quickly and then slamming on the brakes while the hoist is up.

On a couple of trips we stopped at Mi’s for a banana drink. She is an attractive girl who runs a little stall by the side of the road just north of Baria. She makes a drink out of bananas, sugar syrup and crushed ice, all mixed together in a vitamizer.

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The bridge on Route 15 that was blown up by the VC.

August 6

We drove to Van Kiep in the morning carrying blast rock. It rained too much at lunchtime so we worked in the afternoon carrying laterite from the pit outside the South gate near "Heavyweight" to the tip as over­fill. Trying to be too smart and dumping the load too close to the edge, I got bogged. You don’t want to get bogged in a garbage tip!

HMAS Brisbane is shelling the Long Hai’s again.

One artillery round exploded prematurely over Nui Dat the other day. VC Snipers are having pot shots at planes as they are landing at Luscombe again.

Tonight we had a rifle and foot inspection.

August 7

Our trucks have been carrying blast rock from Nui Dat to Van Kiep all day for the engineers. We gave some apples to some kids and talked to a Vietnamese woman in her house for a while.

One old man was afraid that we would tear out his rather ornate gateposts and we did our best to explain in our schoolboy French that we avoid them and leave them intact.

Ron Clarke got his truck bogged up to the chassis and we had to get a bulldozer to pull him out. That didn’t work so we had to get the dozer to push his truck out.

After giving him a good rubbishing about no one being able to bog a six wheel drive vehicle, I ended up bogged myself while trying to turn around. Humble Pie for dinner tonight!

August 8

Today, we worked to Dat Do carrying rock from the Horseshoe. We went back to Nui Dat for lunch.

We had to be careful today and take it quietly as one of our guys ran over a Vietnamese woman yesterday and killed her. We don’t want to stir up too much resentment especially since Dat Do is full of VC.

Sometimes there are only old men, women and children around Dat Do village. At other times there are plenty of young men. We think that they are from the Viet Cong’s D445 Regiment and are on leave.

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Overtaking an ox cart

August 9

We worked to Dat Do again today. When we arrived at the Horseshoe we found that the ARVN unit were back there after being out on an operation.

The funeral for the Vietnamese woman was held today. It’s easy to see that everyone does not like us much; the people stand well clear of the road and stare at us coldly as we go past.

I ran over and killed a four feet long Taipan today. C Rations for lunch on the road.

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Horseshoe Hill, an outlying fortification and artillery base.

August 10

Sunday. 248 and a wakey!

We had to work all morning on our vehicles. The section has been changed around and I have a new vehicle now.

I had to do a CES check, clean the battery and cabin and make sure that the jerry cans were full. The last bloke who drove this truck was pretty slack and it needs a bit of work to bring it up to scratch.

The afternoon was spent resting as it is our half day off.

August 11

A usual start for the day as we headed out to Baria after loading rock at the quarry. However, we couldn’t get outside the gate as the MPC was being changed.

Rather than get paid in real money we use Military Payment Certificates. These are changed regularly to minimise the black market and today is the day. The last series had been in for about nine months.

I handed what little money I had in at 1OFP and got a receipt for it. We will have to live on a sort of credit system for a day or so until the new series is distributed.

In the afternoon I dropped off a few loads to fill in some pot holes and then went around to 106 Field Workshops to have the aluminium tray on my truck welded.

August 12

Today we are working for 17 Construction Squadron carrying boulders for the bridge site. We did one load before lunch to Van Kiep and then resumed operations to the bridge site.

Today we had to have C Rations in the quarry as the engineers reckon it takes too long to come back to our mess for lunch.

The slack engineers are slower than we are and it really doesn’t seem to matter, but they seem to be in charge!

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Large boulders used in building the causeway on Route 15.

August 13

I’m doing the main garbage run today. I saw Marty Miles & Murphy who are both drivers for Civil Affairs as well as Pete Fry who is the Brigadier’s driver. We were all at Pucka together. I probably did more talking than working.

At the tip, I got the truck bogged and had to get another truck to pull me out.

I had the same job in the afternoon, but I managed to hide in the lines for an hour or two and fill in some time.

August 14

Today we are working from the Hors
eshoe Hill to the area of a new fire support base. What a job! Hard slow driving today.

The ground was like sponge rubber and everyone got bogged a number of times. Each time that meant trying to winch out. When we tried to put the FSB in through a couple of uncultivated paddies, even two of the Caterpillar D8’s got bogged as well.

In the end the Artillery changed the location of their FSB to another site down the road and we ended up having to lay hard standing in to the dozers about 50 yards off the road so that they could be recovered. Some of our other trucks took the infantry out to clear the area.

We worked 12 hours solid today to do nothing but lay 50 yards of road and cart a whole heap of tow chains, D shackles, steel ropes etc. around.

August 15

Another day back on Route 23 taking blast rock from Nui Dat.

The road is pretty soft after the rain. The ground gets very soft, especially around the approaches to a small wooden bridge that we are building up.

I was paid today seeing that I couldn’t get in yesterday and went to the Post Office to buy a postal order to send some money home.

It really poured today; the first rain for a few days

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Bogged equipment at new Fire Support Base.

August 16

Our task today is to take a load of gravel to FSB Searle.

I was held up by the Engineers who couldn’t find a Stave Tank and I missed the convoy. The tank was for the water supply and the gravel was to go around the mortars.

I ended up going out with a gun jeep escort.

On the way back I broke a shock absorber and had to tie it up with wire. I had it welded back in place by 3.00 pm but this was too late to do the 1 Field Regt. RAA gar­bage run. I delivered a load of screenings to them and then knocked off.

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Infantry going in to protect equipment.

August 17

Sunday. 241 and a wakey!

We left at 8.15 am with me driving a beach trip to Vung Tau. I went around to the American PX for a look and then hitch-hiked back to the Badcoe Club.

On the way, I stopped off at the YMCA for a goffer (soft drink) and then watched a Vietnamese show back at the Badcoe Club. I spent most of my spare time drinking goffers and eating chips.

In the middle of the afternoon, Col Davis decided that he had seen enough of Vietnam. Walking to the beach, he announced that he was going to swim home. I reckon that he was either drunk or sober enough to swim about 150 yards because that was as far as he got. A couple of Diggers went out and grabbed him and in a very wet, drunken and sorry state, we threw him on the truck and drove back to Nui Dat.

August 18

Today, we are taking loads of boulders to the bridge near Baria that had been blown up by the VC. We left our tail­gates in the quarry as these rocks are far too big to fit under them.

After two trips to the bridge in the morning, we car­ried blast rock to Route 23.

Today was just another routine day.

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Looking towards the Long Hai Hills from Route 23.

August 19

Again, we are taking big boulders to the bridge site to fill in the river. Some of them are up to 3 feet in diameter.

After lunch we took blast rock to Route 23.

With a lot of breakdowns caused by flat tyres and hoist problems we rarely had all our nine trucks on the road at once.

The engineers are complaining that we are going too slowly. We would rather travel in pairs but our CO won’t let us and insists that we run in packets of eight or nine trucks. Instead, we have our lunch hour reduced! If some of these officers came outside the wire every now and then, they would see that we are not going to get ambushed every twenty yards.

One of the blokes had an AD (Accidental Dis­charge) with his rifle tonight on the way to the mess and got a bullet in the leg. No one knows what actually happened but there was a lot of blood around.

August 20

This morning we went to 1 Field Regiment. expecting to work locally but we were sent to Dat Do to work from the Horseshoe to Route 23. We travelled there on our own without an escort, and started work.

We had a hotbox lunch today which came out by Landrover. It sure beats C Rations!

At 4.00 pm we lined up to come back with a load of rock for the new water point by the dam. I am sure that we will have the Civil Affairs Unit after us tomorrow, having stirred up the village women in Dat Do with all sorts of suggestive comments and actions as we were lining up.

August 21

We all got up early to be around at 1 Field Regt. by 7.15 am to find out that they have a stand down day. Instead, we came back to the quarry to cart rock for 17 Const. to the bridge on Route 23.

These big boulders are really making a mess of the trucks. Nearly all have holes in the tray and one was loaded so hard that it ripped the back bogies out of alignment.

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A truck, torn from its bogies by overloading.

August 22

Today, we carried big boulders to the bridge site again.

Now we have to reverse down over the rock we have already laid and drop it so that it falls in the water. It gets a bit tricky reversing down a slope in 6 wheel drive low ratio with a river underneath. One big rock knocked a tail gate trunion off as it was sliding out so now I can’t carry a tailgate.

A good thing about this job however, is that we are working pretty well on our own and we don’t have to form up into convoys.

Johnny O’Keefe was here with a show today but I couldn’t get any time to come in and see it.

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Dumping rock at the causeway.

August 23

We worked to Baria all day carrying blast rock to Route 23.

Tom Herdegen has a brand new truck on the road for the first time today which he rolled on to its side. A Nog APC cut him off and he couldn’t do anything to avoid a collision but swerve quickly.

We stopped in Baria, at Mi’s, a number of times for a drink.

August 24

Sunday. 231 and a Wakey!

Our section had to work all day carrying over 300 yards of blast rock and laterite.

I had a flat tyre when I got down to my truck and it took until 10.30 am to change it. In the middle of fixing it I even managed to drive the truck off the
jack. What a fool!

In the afternoon we had three loads each to do and were looking forward to having the rest of the afternoon off. Instead we had to help put an aerial on top of the 70 ft. radio tower at the new command post.

Finally, I got a bed for my tent after sleeping on a stretcher since we arrived back at the Dat. One of the officers had a spare bed in his tent and was getting tired of copping all the visitors who came through. He told his Batman to get rid of it so I grabbed it. Life in the Army is a lot easier if you are a good scrounger.

Pill parade had its usual moment when our Sergeant told one of the Diggers that he wasn’t acting like a soldier. He got a real shock when the Digger (obviously a Nasho) replied that he wasn’t a soldier – just a civilian dressed up in clown’s clothing for two years! Lt. Reason saw the humour in it all and the whole parade was dismissed in fits of laughter.

August 25

Today I worked to Route 23 carrying blast rock.

We had a day where the speed was on for young and old – what a bunch of lairs. We did have to be a little careful of Provosts. They occasionally set up speed traps with a mirror and clock the amount of time it takes us to pass from one spot to another. (Who said it couldn’t be done with mirrors?)

I had one of the fastest ever trips out and in 8 trips today, I travelled 117 miles.

The Vietnamese are really cheesing us off. They don’t seem to care about us working on the road trying to help them and would drive straight through our road works and tipping site if we let them. I nearly dropped one bloke on a bike today for getting in the way.

After thinking that I was really smart in finding my own bed yesterday, it turns out that the Q Store has just had another shipment and the other three blokes in the tent were issued with theirs today anyway.

6 RAR’s mortars fired at night. They are not using as big a charge as last night when they fired from about 2.00 am until breakfast.

August 26

This morning I spent the time servicing my truck. What a rotten job! Grease everywhere!

The servicing ramp is too low for me, the equipment doesn’t work very well and the weather stinks.

After lunch I had the truck inspected and worked on some repair tasks all afternoon. We had to put a new power divider seal, windscreen and taillight in as well as trying to clean up the pintle (towing) hook.

August 27

I had all day in the workshop finishing the work on my truck. A lot of the time was spent painting the cabin.

In the evening we had a lecture by a U.S. Naval Com­mander about our relationship with the Vietnamese. What he said made everyone think. He stressed the point that their lives were as important to them as ours were to us. That seems to be just common sense, but when you are busy keeping yourself alive, it’s hard to remember about the local people.

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Running the Army – working in 85’s transport office.

August 31

Sunday – 227 and a wakey!

Today I had to provide the protection party for the 1ATF beach trip. I was on the M60 machine gun on the rear gun jeep.

We spent all morning driving around Vung Tau and went to the American PX. In the afternoon we went to the Badcoe Club and watched a show. The entertainers (a Noggie group) had a real hard time with everyone throwing Jaffas at them.

We left Vung Tau at 4.00 pm and went back to the Dat.

Tonight we had a barbecue at 52 Supply Platoon which was just great.

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Loading the M60 as convoy protection on the beach trip.

August 28

Working out at Dat Do all day on Route 23.

I had my umpteenth flat tyre by 10.00 am on a big pile of rock.

I thought that I could smell something funny as I was changing it and looked around to find a pile of dirt covering a body. A VC due to be buried some days ago had been left by the side of the road. Our en­gineers had covered it with dirt but it was only 6 in­ches or so deep and there it was; a foot sticking out. Just anther queer thing to be seen here.

We kept working all day and had a hotbox lunch.

We came back early as some blokes had some patrol training to do. Our unit is now responsible for TAOR patrols outside the perimeter.

We were paid and I worked until 6.30 pm fixing my puncture. Because I was still working, I missed a rifle and tent inspection.

August 29

I’m back on the garbage run as my truck is due to go to 106 Field Workshop to get the tailgate bracket welded on. I finished the morning run in one and a half hours and the afternoon run in 50 minutes.

At the Pelican Pad, I tried to get a joy-ride in one of the chinook helicopters that were re-supplying a FSB but they were too busy.

I think the most remarkable thing about today was tearing a hole in my strides. That means I will have to put in an L&D report and exchanging them at the Q Store for a new pair.

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Chinook lifting ammunition to a Fire Support Base.

August 30

Seeing that my truck has not come back from the workshop I am on a work party replacing more blast walls with corrugated iron. With numerous smoko’s it was pretty easy work and I even managed to do some washing.

A Chinook carrying Ammunition to one of our Fire Support bases crashed today when a rotor blade came off. The mortar rounds it was carrying exploded and killed the crew of five. Maybe it’s just as well that they were too busy yesterday for me to have that joyride after all!

September 1

Same job on Route 23 again.

September 2

Worked on Route 23 all day from Nui Dat quarry. We did 8 loads and 135 miles working in packets of four trucks.

Today was a day of driving flat out. Our group went so fast that we almost lapped the other packet who were working on the same job.

September 3

Still working, on Route 23 all day from Nui Dat.

Another hard day driving flat out. We did eight trips again and another 136 miles.

Jim Stott, our Medic came with me for a joyride today as he was sick of sitting around the lines all day. I got back to the compound at night really pooped.

It really poured today, making the roads really slippery. Not only were the roads slippery, but we have trouble with cattle getting in our way. The standard procedure for moving them is to hit them with a pick handle.

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Jim Stott, ‘The ‘Doc’ in his dispensary.

September 4

We took boulders to the bridge all day. We all had to wait for some time with the first load until the engineers came
out to supervise the dumping.

We did three loads in the morning and in the afternoon a new Reo corporal went out in my truck so I had all afternoon to catch up on some mail.

News reports today, say that Ho Chi Minh is dead. I wonder who will take over from him – possibly Giap?

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Delivering rock to the roadworks on Route 23.

September 5

We are meant to be working on the road again today, but we spent all morning taking loads out to Route 15 to fill in three culverts that the VC blew last night. The traffic was banked up for miles.

I looked through the shops in Baria while we were waiting for shotguns to arrive from 17 Construction Sqdn. They were full of all sorts of strange things ranging from kero lanterns to bags of rice. I could not recognise many of the foods and things. It seems that the lottery ticket seller does a good trade.

After lunch we were back on the road carting to Route 23.

September 6

Today I volunteered to go to Xuan Moc on a cargo truck to move a Vietnamese fire support base from just east of Dat Do. We left at 10.00 am after a lot of hard work preparing the trucks and chang­ing from ‘high sides’ to centre seating.

We formed a very long convoy over a very bumpy road. The road would be the roughest I have ever seen. We could only travel at about 10 MPH. It was mined in a few places and the engineers cleared the road in front of us.

At the FSB a D4 Bulldozer was bogged and looked like it only needed some traction to help get it out. I tried to help by using my winch. As fast as I winched, the faster it pulled my truck in towards it – even with my toe on the accelerator and my heel on the brake. We hooked another truck on to mine with chains and I tried pulling with some extra weight. The electric overload cut-out on the winch did not work and the 5/8" inch cable broke. All the Nogs were lined up along the length of the cable watching and I don’t know how anyone didn’t lose their head as the cable whipped after it snapped.

We unloaded at 5.30 pm at Xuan Moc and headed for home. The fuel line to the rear tank on my truck was broken so I only had one fuel tank and had to scrounge around the rest of the trucks to find some jerry cans to fill up the front tank.

The earth lead to the battery broke on the rough roads which meant that I didn’t have any lights. The only way to see was to carefully follow the tail lights of the truck in front.

We finally got back to the Dat at 8.00 pm, not withstanding that there is a curfew from 6.00 pm.

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Fire Support Base

September 7

Sunday – 220 and a wakey!

This morning I even got a sleep in.

We took two loads of laterite out to the school at Tam Phuoc, a hamlet near Long Dien, to make a playground, and finished at lunch time.

In the afternoon we got really mucked around by our duty corporal (He is so fast intellectually that we call him ‘Barry Jones’ of the Dat’). He had us taking loads of rock everywhere. The Pelican Pad got 100 tons of blast rock when they wanted 10 yards of screenings. Then we took 100 yards to 1 Armoured Regiment where their tanks were churning up the mud. They didn’t know it was coming and weren’t ready for it.

To finish the day we loaded up with boulders ready to take out to the bridge site tomorrow.

On Pill Parade a new Reo Coporal started getting mad and made it a real circus. He’s playing the "I know because I’ve done it" game seeing that he spent some time in Malaya. It doesn’t go down well with the blokes who have spent as much as nine to ten months here.

September 8

Work started at 7.00 am with a load to the bridge. We filled it in today at low tide, hence the early start.

When the tide was in, or there was too much rock stockpiled we carted to Route 23.

I ended up working on Route 23 all day as no one told me what I should do and this seemed the best thing. 86 Platoon from Vung Tau were working there as well.

Their CO is still a real "Warrior"; they all have to wear flack jackets and helmets all the time.

None of us pushed it too hard today and we stopped for a drink at Mi’s whenever we got fed up with the traffic.

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The girls who run the souvenir shop in Baria.

September 9

Again, we took boulders to the bridge site all morning.

In the afternoon I stopped in at the compound for a technical inspection by two mechanics from 106 Field Workshop. They found about 40 things that needed to be fixed on my truck. They are trying to work out why all the tippers in Vietnam are in such a bad state. I reckon its because they just weren’t built for this type of work.

Apart from two of our blokes coming back from the water point with the body of a twelve foot long Python that they had killed, the highlight of the day was changing a pair of trousers at the Q Store.

The python has been paraded through the transport office, strung from the rafters and finally draped around the bumper of a truck. It will probably stay there until it stinks too much.

September 10

I was originally tasked to the Horseshoe with nine of our tippers but the Engineers were tasked to fire support bases.

We came back to the Dat and ended up taking laterite to the tip from the laterite pit outside the South Gate. It rained heavily all the time and the road became as slippery as glass Even in six wheel drive we just skidded all over the place.

I went to the workshops before lunch with a problem with my PTO cable that was stopping me from raising the hoist. The job was called off after lunch as it was raining and the road was too slippery.

Our platoon has been changed around from today. We used to have a six sections of six trucks. Now we have a headquarters section, two dump sections and one cargo section. I still have the same truck in a dump (tip­per) section.

I have a picket tonight and am down for first shift.

September 11

Today we were meant to be working from the quar­ry to Route 23 at Long Dien but were shifted to the community centre where we took blast rock to lay as hard standing over some muddy areas.

Because it is pay day I was able to draw some money and bought a record player and tripod.

Late in the afternoon we watched a Chinook lift a 25,000 gallon tank on top of the new water point.

September 12

We worked to the bridge all day carrying rock.

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Temporary pontoon bridge

September 13

We carried rock out to the bridge again all day. I didn’t feel like work
ing too hard so I just took it easy. I did six loads. The rock we were carrying was a bit smaller than the boulders we have been carrying and is more like blast rock.

September 14

Sunday – 213 and a wakey!

I did some local rock and soil cartage in the morn­ing. I took 100 yards to the 2/35th. US Artillery Bat­tery and 15 yards to 8 Field Ambulance. In the afternoon, I didn’t do anything other than have a CES check and I was issued with a new air hose and a shovel.

All of 2 Platoon are up for the night so they can get away early in the morning to move one of the Battalions at a FSB. Scotty and Furmiston slept in my tent.

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Getting loaded with blast rock in the Nui Dat Quarry.

September 15

I didn’t see the blokes from 2 Platoon this morning when they left as they were away at 5.00 am

My section were tasked to work "As directed by 17 Construction Squadron" all day. They sent us down to Vung Tau to pick up 3/4" screenings from the American crushers. We could only fit two trips in all day. Three out of our four trucks had flat tyres. This resulted in the last trip to Nui Dat taking two and a half hours to do twenty two miles. When we got back to the Dat, all the tyres had to be repaired.

September 16

My first rest day in five weeks or so. I didn’t do anything except write a few letters, read and sleep. I did manage to walk down to the Q Store to change a pair of greens I had "L&D’d" because they were too big.

September 17

We worked out to the Horseshoe all day. We only did two loads before lunch – none before we had morning tea. After lunch we only did three loads so it was a pret­ty easy day.

On the way back we stopped at Mi’s for a drink.

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The quarry was a good place to try some hill climbing.

September 18

We did one trip down to Vung Tau and bought back a load of sand as our first task. I was able to find enough time to buy a few gifts at the Hong Kong shop to take home on R&R.

We did another trip to Route 23 from Nui Dat before lunch.

After lunch we continued to work to Route 23 for the rest of the afternoon.

September 19

Today was a pretty mixed up day. We took one load to the road at Van Kiep and then carried rock to the community centre all day.

At lunch time I called in to the PX for a look.

By 3.00 pm they had enough rock at Van Kiep, so we carried big rocks to the bridge near Baria. It poured with rain on the last trip.

On returning to the Dat, we thought that we had lost a truck as only five out of six came in to re-fuel. We were just about to send out a search party when he it appeared after having refuelled from the wrong end of the line.

Today I got my ribbons to wear home on R&R. The official medals will not be granted until I get dis­charged but some of the blokes who have been on leave in Hong Kong bought back a bar with service ribbons for me. I can officially wear the ribbon for the Australian Forces Medal now, and in a month I can officially wear the South Vietnam Service Medal as well.

September 20

We were originally tasked to work for 17 Construc­tion Sqdn. but this morning orders were changed for us to operate from the Horseshoe. We took a load of laterite on the way. We worked from there all day and had a hot box lunch.

We were late getting back to Nui Dat because we came home through Hoa Long and we filled in a culvert that the tanks had chewed up as they have been travelling through there.

September 21

Sunday – 206 and a wakey!

I had to work on my truck all morning. There was a tyre to change, a non-technical inspection to com­plete, an air filter to clean as well as to fix the battery carrier which needed a clean and paint.

In the afternoon I had to work as part of our defence section. We were only needed once for a duty driver task and we drew straws to see who did it. I spent all afternoon reading and relaxing.

September 22

Worked at Horseshoe hill all day for 1 Field Squadron. The tanks are still there as protection in case they are attacked again.

September 23

Tasked to work for 17 Construction all day.

Our pill parade time has been changed from 6.30 am in our lines to 7.30 am in the transport compound. This makes it better as it leaves more time to get dressed and ready for work. It also gives us a couple of extra minutes in bed for those who want to skip breakfast.

Today we repaired the road from Horseshoe Hill to Dat Do. We were all carrying rock which we dumped in every pothole we could find. The average trip was about 15 miles and we started at 7.30 am and didn’t get back to Nui Dat until 7.00 pm

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A Centurion Tank leaving for the Horseshoe.

September 24

Worked for 17 Construction Sqdn carrying their rub­bish to the tip. We got pretty indignant about doing their rubbish run as they have their own trucks, so we complained to the boss. In the afternoon we had permission to stop so we worked on our trucks again and did a Non-Tech inspection. We presume that they finished their garbage run themselves.

I also unrolled the winch cable, oiled it and rewound it back on the drum.

September 25

Today I have to do a 4000 mile service (grease and engine oil change). An easy service – wasn’t even messy. The truck was inspected by RAEME after lunch and I started working on a few minor repair jobs.

In the last month I have done 2,700 miles. Payday today.

September 26

Still in the workshop, I kept working on the truck and did some more jobs on the list. We fitted new weapon clamps, soldered some holes in the fuel tank, repaired the tail lights and fixed the brush guard.

The best thing about being in the workshop is the chance to get a real brew of tea in the mornings and afternoons The mechanics make a good brew of Tea!

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85 Transport Platoon’s compound in the Wet.

September 27

Still in the workshop. I spent all day taking off the chain boxes and pulling down the hydraulic gear for the hoist. We took the top of the gear box off and after a couple of adjustments we put everything back again.

We had to refill the hoist reservoir as the old oil was not the correct type.

September 28

Sunday – 199 and a wakey!

In the morning we had roll call and pill parade at the yard.

Some of our blokes took about 20 tons
of unserviceable ammunition up the road where it was blown up. They reckon it made a pretty big bang.

I spent an hour tidying up the yard and then we went to see the Lorrae Desmond show. After lunch we slept, wrote and loafed around with half the day off.

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A ’round eye’ singer at the show

September 29

We worked at the Horseshoe all day for 1 Field Sqdn. They are a good lot to work for; far better than 17 Field Construction. It’s not everyone who would help shovel 5 tons of rock off a truck to help you get out of a bog.

One day, one of 17 Constructions trucks was bogged and the bloke who was driving it was a real smart-aleck Lance Corporal who had been booking everyone for speeding. We all told him that we didn’t have any chains and just left him there to find his own way out.

We knocked off for lunch at 12.00 but the hotbox didn’t come out until 1.00 pm so we took an hour for lunch from then as well.

I saw Alan Murphy from recruit training. He is now a tank driver and I gave him a lift back to Nui Dat.

Today my horn went on the blink. You don’t realise how useful something is until it stops working.

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Troops watching a show at the Luscombe Bowl

September 30

In the morning I went to the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) to see the Doc about some ring tinea on my face. All he said was to put twice as much ointment on as I am  already using now.

I did a non-technical inspection on a Landrover and topped up a few oil levels.

In the afternoon I refuelled a few vehicles and signed off the G2’s as it’s the last day in the month. I suppose the paperwork must go on.

Before knocking off I had to sort the laundry which had just come in.

We had a practice alert at night as we are possibly getting an attack in the next week or so. The guns on the perimeter fired to check their arc and we were ordered to carry weapons everywhere we went.

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St. Kilda Pad, the main departure point for infantry operations.

Click here to continue to Part 4 – Getting Up Some Time

5 comments

  1. Paul Smith · ·

    Very interesting information on Vung Tau in 69. My father was the CSM ‘Tassie Smith’, so your diary helps me understand life in Vung Tau in 69. Dad took quite a few slides of his time in Vung Tau, so you are probaly in there somewhere. Dad passed away in 1996. Did you know Dino Ryan? One of Dad’s good friends who also served in Vung Tau in 69. I’m currently transferring Dad’s slides to digital, so if you are interested in a copy please let me know.

    Regards, Paul Smith

  2. Paul Smith · ·

    Re my previous post – I meant Nui Dat, not Vung Tau!!!

  3. Bruce Wilson · ·

    Paul,

    Thanks for your comment. You have every right to be proud of your dad. He was a good man. I only knew him briefly, but everyone that I have spoken to since returning from Vietnam holds him in a very high level of esteem. I would love to geet a copy of the photos once you have finished them.

  4. Michael Warne · ·

    Hi,

    My dad Kelly Lionel George Warne passed away five years ago (lung cancer). He served in the following units in Vietnam
    Australian Logistics Support Company 07/04/1966 02/05/1966
    17th Construction Squadron 03/05/1966 27/12/1966
    1st Field Squadron 11/06/1969 11/06/1970
    1st Field Squadron 22/07/1970 11/02/1971

    I was wondering if you knew him or know of others that served with him as we have a large collection of slides from his days in vietnam. Unfortunately we were unable to document what they were of before he passed away and are looking for help in putting names/events to the slides.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  5. Rudolf de Vink · ·

    I find your web site very interesting if found it because I searched for banana drinks baria. I served in Vietnam for 9 months in 1969 with HQ Bty 1St Field Regiment RAA. I frequently travelled between Nui Dat and Vung Tau. Your story is very similar to my own. I attended the same concert at the dust bowl and have a video of some of the acts at that concert. This includes a girl dancing with feathers, a man balancing a sword on to of a bayonet and the round eyed girl singing, there is also an image of someones pet monkey.

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