My experience dates back many years to the early 1970’s
I was a soldier. I add not by choice.By nature I am a very passive person.I do not resort to conflict to resolve problems. I think only twice in my life have I resorted to some form of violence. On the other hand I am fiercely defensive when necessary.
During Army Corp training in Victoria on an evening of socialising with soldiers and instructors, I became, for reasons, which escape me now, very annoyed with a fellow soldier.We were on a course to train us how to become army clerks.Our course platoon consisted of twenty-four privates (no longer recruits).All were qualified accountants except one. Training Accountants to become clerks is akin to training Brickies to become labourers.
To my knowledge everyone became a Private/Temporary Corporal and most of them assigned to serve under senior ranking officers. Radar O’Reilly had nothing on this lot and MASH wasn’t even on the television screens.Nevertheless the army decided we required the same level of instruction as newly inducted seventeen year old recruits with no qualifications.In sympathy to the enlisted, to me the course was designed for dysfunctional thirteen-year-olds.
During the evening referred to above, for reasons I do not recall, I confronted one of my fellow soldiers with the clear intent of shoving his arse up the chimney in the lounge room of our host.Somehow things cooled down and it did not happen.
TAN SON NUIT AIRPORT SAIGON 1970
The Boeing 707 taxied to a halt after a very tiring first of many flights to Saigon. A late night take off from Sydney, then a stop at Darwin, then Singapore where we had to change into civilian shirts to disembark while the aircraft was refueled. Singapore at that time did not allow troops to pass through their country so we had to pretend we were tourists.
Arrive Tan Son Nuit
We disembark. We stand on the tarmac.There were F111 Fighter jets, Hueys (helicopter), Chinoques (big helicopters),gunships of all description and there was Spooky (Puff the Magic Dragon), everything military and angry and everywhere. They were taking off in all directions.Sitting quietly was the Red Kangaroo waiting to take the next lot of blokes home.That was my job. “To process the next lot who were going home in a weeks time”.Find them, interview them, process them and get them home.
Anyhow that is another story about bringing the troops home in the dead of night after curfew when no was around except for Mum and Dad and that was lucky if they happened to live in Sydney.Our baggage arrives on the back of a truck, piled high, all jungle green with a few other articles. Over 160 green bags all the fucking same. The local army movements personnel unload it all. One great big pile of green bags.My bag was easy to find. It was tied with a pink ribbon. My bride did this. The pink caused a mild amount of embarrassment when I retrieved my kit. I have to admit the pink ribbon worked.
Put mildly I received a payout as one would expect from a bunch of diggers.That was the least of my problems.I stood there in jungle greens, starched to perfection. I stood out like a sore thumb to say the least.Despite how uncomfortable I felt that day, I continued to wear starched greens, prepared to perfection on every single one of my assignments (thirteen in all) to Vietnam.
Ton San Nuit airport, there I stood, starched greens, green bag with a pink ribbon. And worse I carried a brown leather case. Just like a schoolboy case.Hung over, jet lagged, tired, confused, however one puts it I was decidedly uncomfortable.And I was alone. Imagine the enormity of Tan Son Nuit airport in 1970. The busiest airport in the world and all military. With all that hardware around the blokes that got off that plane knew they were not going to a summer camp.
I was ALONE.
The others on the flight were organised. Like it or not they were off to their destinations. Nui Dat, Vung Tau, Saigon wherever. Whatever stinking hole they had to go to.Nothing organised for me. I had orders. About ten pages of them. First, report to HQAFVEvery one else was expected and had someone to meet them.Not me.I was not on anyone’s roster.Carry your own baggage was the order.
At that time I stood on the tarmac of what was the busiest airport in the world. All my fellow travelers from Sydney were disappearing.There I stood, starched jungle greens, green gear bag (I took off the pink ribbon), small brown school case. I could handle all that but for one thing.In FRONT of me stood TWENTY DOZEN FROZEN PIES, slowly melting, packed high in cardboard boxes.
My orders were to report to HQAFV in Saigon. Following that I was to proceed to Nui Dat on an afternoon Caribou (a two engine prop aircraft) flight.There were a lot of Caribous in Vietnam as can be seen from these photos.Personnel around the Qantas aircraft began to dissipate.A jeep (US variety) pulls up. Two Colonels accept their lift.This leaves me.
I recognise the driver. He was a Corporal. A Private Temporary Corporal.The same one I had an altercation with in Puckapunyal.The bloke I tried to stuff up a chimney.The conundrum. Do I seek help from the Temp/Cpl and eat humble pie. Or do I seek an alternative solution. Humble pie is not that bad, besides I do not recall the reason for the earlier altercation and I do not think Temp/Cpl Warton did either.
For some reason he forgave my indiscretion at Puckapunyal, for which I was grateful.He then convinced the officers (Red Braid and all) to allow me to hitch a ride into HQAFV in Saigon.There I sat at the back of the jeep with two Colonels with all their braid. Just me, my green bag, my school case and twenty dozen fucking pies. All up the back of the jeep with the officers in the front.
As we drove out we passed a leftover from the Tet offensive, a reminder of how close the communist forces were in taking control.I was somewhat humble and very grateful to accept the ride into Saigon.I was a very lonely young man on the tarmac of one of busiest and most dangerous airports in the world until Private Temporary Corporal Warton came along with his Jeep.
So I arrived at HQAFV(Headquarters Australian Forces Vietnam).Me and a shit load of defrosting pies.