Soon it was our turn to defend the NDP (Night Defensive Position). We patrolled back to the NDP to relieve the other platoon. The Red Rat was on hand to greet us. He noticed that some of us needed a shave. Well for me that wasn’t a problem. Bum fluff doesn’t count. The Red Rat wanted the blokes charged for not shaving. Can you believe that? Here we are in a war zone and the Red Rat is charging blokes for not shaving!
Digger was one of those he charged because his beard was so dark. Maybe I should have confessed to the Red Rat that I hadn’t shaved either. He would charge me and I could show the charge sheet to the blokes and about how grown up I was and needed to shave every day otherwise the Red Rat would charge me again.
We settled in to our position and the next day Digger came over to use my boot polish gear. The Red Rat was hearing the charges out bush. Where is the enemy attack when you need one? Digger was pretty pissed off as were all of us guys in the platoon. I think he was docked a couple of days pay.
There was a cleared area within the NDP for choppers to land. I was heading across to the other side of the NDP and I decided to walk along the edge of the cleared area. A chopper had just landed and I could see some of the trees being disturbed by the downwash.
Then it happened. There was an almighty sound, a thud or a thump, just like a machete hitting a large cardboard box. I saw some light-coloured debris get flung through the air. As I moved further forward I could see an APC which had backed up to the chopper. Then the CSM came running past me without even noticing I was there. The CSM was a good guy, his nickname was Mother. I looked back to the chopper and I could see that the pilot was looking down at the ground beside him; there was something in the grass.
I wasn’t sure what had happened. I found out later that the driver of the APC had been killed. It seems he backed up to the chopper and crawled out onto the APC. Instead of jumping down onto the ground and going around the side of the APC, for some reason he decided to move along the top of the APC. This brought him very close to the chopper blades. As he got to the end of the APC he jumped, as he did so he straightened up slightly and his head got walloped by the chopper blades. He was dead when he hit the ground.
His name was David Doyle, a Trooper with B Squadron 3 Cav, the date was the 31st July 1970.
David’s brother Dermot was a Lance Bombardier serving with 4th Field Regiment in Vietnam at the same time. He escorted his brother’s body back to Australia a couple of days later.
In another coincidence David Doyle trained at Canungra with Wooly – you know, our guy with the M79.
Over the next few days One Platoon had a couple of contacts and came across a bunker system, luckily the caretakers had fled. We were to relieve One Platoon and to bring in one of our engineers to work out how to destroy the bunker system. As we patrolled to One Platoon’s location, the engineer was travelling directly behind me. He hadn’t been in country long and he was rubbing his chest saying he had a bit of heartburn.
We married up with One Platoon and the engineer went forward with the boss, Pat, to sort out what was happening. Killer and I took up a firing position that protected our rear. The machine gun was covering back along our route in, just in case Nigel was following us up. It was pretty routine stuff. Killer usually had about 100 rounds attached to the machine gun. When we stopped like this he would link up another 100 rounds. Then we would sit and keep a lookout while all the other blokes got on with whatever else they had to do.
It was quiet for about 10 minutes and then something surreal happened. There was an explosion over my right shoulder. I instinctively turned and looked in that direction but I couldn’t see anything because of the thick jungle. Then I heard some screams further to my right. It was very strange. The screams seemed to come from a different direction to the explosion which was not loud; and the screams came about a second later.
Their screams were different; they were more of a chorused sigh, very high pitched, and not very loud. At first I thought the guys were joking around, but the flurry of voices calling out told us that something bad had happened.
Killer and I looked at each other. Our instincts told us to rush over and see if we could help. Some blokes were obviously wounded but our training ensured that we stayed where we were and we focused on our job, protecting the platoon in case the enemy followed up our track.
Davo came over. He was very distressed. He told us that five blokes were down. One of them was our platoon commander, Pat, who had a badly damaged leg and it looked like he may lose it. One Platoon suffered greatly. Their platoon commander, Bill, had very serious wounds to both his legs and two other members of his platoon were also wounded; one seriously.
He then mentioned that the engineer, Peter, was dead. He hardly had a mark on him except a piece of metal that pierced his chest killing him instantly.
One dead and four others seriously wounded probably from a claymore mine which spews out hundreds of ball bearings.
The Dustoff request was sent. The message came back that the Dustoff was unavailable. I said to Killer that they are probably on another mission. It turned out they were not. The Dustoff helicopter was sitting on the pad at Nui Dat about 15 minutes away. It would not come to our aid because there was no gun ship support to protect the Dustoff helicopter, which was not armed.
They’re kidding right?
What about that great brief they gave us when we first arrived in country? The yanks had plenty of bravado then. But now in our time of need they weren’t coming. I can understand the reluctance of the crew if we were in direct contact with the enemy. It would be foolish to turn up unarmed with no gun ship support. But we were not in contact. Nobody was shooting at us. The enemy were only caretakers and they had pissed off!
The guys from 9 Sqn RAAF showed up in a normal Iroquois helicopter. Back up was a Sioux helicopter, the ones that look like a bubble, and a guy had a rifle pointing out the side. Some backup I thought – but they were here!
The chopper hovered for a long time and winched up all five guys. Killer and I, not really knowing what had happened as we continued on our role of rear protection, could see the guys getting winched up, their blood soaked bandages flapping about in the downwash. Killer and I simply looked at each other and said nothing.
Thommo died on the chopper on the way to hospital.
The date was 2nd August 1970.
Private Don Thompson 1 Pl A Coy 2RAR
Sapper Peter Penneyston 1 Field Sqn RAE
2Lt Pat Cameron 2 Pl A Coy 2RAR
Lt Bill Rolfe 1 Pl A Coy 2RAR
Private Kyle Secker 1 Pl A Coy 2RAR
It was soul destroying.
Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the VIETNAM WAR. If you can’t wait, read more of this story now – or wait out while we reproduce it on these pages.
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