Chapter 47: May I be a little self indulgent?

Six months ago I decided to put pen to paper, so to speak, to write about my experiences as a Nasho completing a full tour of duty in Vietnam as an infantry soldier. I had been thinking about this for some time, but now that my youngest son is currently serving in Afghanistan with 8/9 RAR, the time was right to do it now.

I’ve read plenty of books on Vietnam and I’ve seen plenty of films; but none of them seems to portray what I experienced.  My war was different.  I also noticed that people were under the misapprehension that the American experience in Vietnam was the same for the Australians.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Americans threw lots of resources at the war and engaged in large-encounter battles with the North Vietnamese Army.  Heavy losses were sustained on both sides.

The Australians did it differently.  We mostly confined ourselves to one province, Phuoc Tuy.  We fought a war of stealth against the VC and occasionally the NVA.  Our goal was twofold: to dominate the province by aggressive patrolling; and to engage in civil construction on infrastructure such as roads, public buildings and utilities as well as introducing health programs.

By any measure this was a successful way to prosecute the war, but in the end it was too little too late; we simply abandoned the South Vietnamese to their fate.  When I say ‘we’ I don’t mean the infantry soldiers.  We did our bit – it was the Australian people (and the Americans of course) who abandoned the South Vietnamese.

I view my war experience in South Vietnam as a very positive one.  We did what was asked of us and we did it well.  I believe this is the story that needs to be told.  I set out therefore to write about what I saw and what I experienced; to inform people about what we did in Vietnam.

We were just a bunch of ordinary blokes.

As I began to write about my experiences, looming over me was the fact that I would have to write about the death of Peter Kowalski whom I served with as his number two machine gunner for more than 12 months.  We were together 24/7.  We were a bloody good team.

I have just reread Chapter 46 where I mention Killer’s death; and I squibbed it.

It is quite evident to the reader that I am not a writer.  I last studied English at high school in 1967.  My grammar, structure and syntax is at best, ‘fair.’  My writing lacks an essential element – emotion.  There is no emotion in my writing. 

 

There is no emotion in my writing

This is a decision I took at the very beginning, essentially my emotions about the war are buried very deep inside me and I am unable to relate to you how I feel about my war experience and in particular how I feel about Killer’s death.  I wish I could talk about the grief, the disabled flight/fight response mechanism and the survival guilt we veterans all carry with us.

I guess that’s why they call us dumb grunts.  We do not share our emotions.  Being scared is normal, everyone is scared when they are confronted with danger, but you can’t show your mates how scared you are.  Likewise you can’t show your grief.  You just get on with the job.

Whatever happens you keep doing your job, that’s the important thing.  If a soldier goes down he knows that the other blokes will come to his assistance, but he must wait until the area is secured.  That is, the enemy threat is neutralised.  To do otherwise would be foolish, extremely dangerous; and may well cost more lives.  Heads have to remain cool.  We bury our emotions and get on with the it; then and now.

My emotions have been buried for 40 years.  I am unable to share them with you now.

Sorry.

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This story is now also available in ebook format. See here for details.

Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the Vietnam War – which is now also available in ebook format. See here to order.

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ian_cavanoughHi guys. I am a good-looking, opinionated old fart who relishes a spirited debate on any topic regardless of how much I think I know about it.
Ian Cavanough,
Yeppoon, Queensland

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

2 thoughts on “Chapter 47: May I be a little self indulgent?

  • 20/05/2018 at 9:43 am
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    Remember you fellas walking past me leaving Garth on that Fateful afternoon as I waited for Transport back to the Dat and R and R…I said to Peter..”see you when I get back”….a few hours later sitting at the boozer Alf approached us with the devastating details….it took so long to absorb the meaning…but what can you do and its true that survivor Guilt….we are too hard on ourselves Ian…..Take Care

    Reply
  • 19/05/2018 at 3:04 pm
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    Hi Ian,
    You may be unable to articulate your emotions – but that did not prevent the power and emotion of Killer’s death hitting me hard in the chest. I felt it. I was shocked. I cried.
    Sometimes the unsaid can be just as powerful.
    I actually think you nailed it in Chapter 46 – https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2018/05/04/chapter-46-a-big-day/
    Brian Hartigan
    CONTACT Editor

    Reply

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