A Truck Driver at War: Vietnam 1969 – 1970
Being conscripted into the army was something that I had never counted on as being a part of my life. I was completely stunned and shattered for a week or more when I received my call-up notice in the mail just after my 20th birthday in 1968. I had been a member of the Scouts as a boy , but I had avoided military type organisations like school cadets with a passion.
My grandfather had fought at the Somme in the 57th Battalion of the 1st AIF and my father had served in the 2nd AIF at a forward supply depot in Moratai and Sarawak in the Pacific. Army service was not new to our family.
Prior to my call up for National Service at the age of 20, I lived in a quiet middle class suburban family in the South Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. I was part of a large extended family, most of whom were very close and lots of energy went into keeping up with them all. My grandmother was very much the matriarch of the family. I had an uncle and seven aunts on my mother’s side and an additional aunt and uncle on my father’s side of the family.
My brother was three years younger than me. He had developed a strong anti-war sentiment and actively participated in the Vietnam Moratorium Marches. We didn’t (at that time) have much in common on our views on the Vietnam War, but now we are good mates. I also had a little sister who was much younger than me.
Especially in recruit training, I found life in the army to be very physically demanding but after a few months of acclimatisation and training, I became used to the discipline and the regimentation of army life. I could never do more than half a dozen push ups, but I could tolerate long route marches. On learning that I was to be posted to Vietnam I was very afraid of being placed in harm’s way. But by then I had served six months in the army and I decided to take what came and to do my duty in as conscientious a way as possible.
I had a combined farewell and twenty first birthday party just before leaving for Vietnam. One of my relations gave me a little pocket diary (leather bound, two days to a page, and with a zipper to close it up) for my birthday. I decided that I should use it to keep a daily record of my time on active service in Vietnam. The entries below have been transcribed from my diary.
As you can see by the contents of this diary, I served in a transport unit – 85 Transport Platoon, 26 Company RAASC. Whilst it was in most ways a non-combatant unit, by the nature of the war in Vietnam, everyone who served there was in the ‘front line’ in some way.
After returning from Vietnam I, like many veterans, went into ‘hibernation’ mode. We didn’t talk about our experience in Vietnam for many years, not knowing how people would react. At one stage, I applied to join the RSL (Returned Services League) only to be told that Vietnam wasn’t a ‘real war’. It was only after the 1987 Welcome Home Parade in Sydney (17 years after my return home from Vietnam) that enabled me, and many veterans, to become proud of our service. It was then that I first published a hard copy of my diary for a few of my mates. I am now publishing it in this form to enable me to tell my story to a wider group of people, which of course includes the current members of my old unit – 85 Transport Troop RACT. I hope that they will learn and appreciate something of the history of our esteemed unit.
My original diary, along with all the letters that I wrote home to my family, has been donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
I hope you enjoy reading about my experience.