Monday, February 20, 2012

Well done those men: memoirs of a Vietnam veteran

Barry Heard had a happy childhood growing up in country Victoria. He left school at 15, worked in a number of jobs and generally life was good.Then in 1964 his number was drawn in the National Service ballot. Due to illness his enlistment was deferred but towards the end of 1965 he had another medical and was told to join the Army and his life changed.

The book is divided into major sections - Training - Vietnam - Home.

Training was at Puckapunyal, Singleton, back at Puckapunyal and then to Queensland for experience in jungle conditions. At the end of training Barry was a lance corporal and a radio operator.

Barry (or Turd as he was known to his Army mates) was sent to Vietnam ahead of the main group from the 7RAR to learn from the troops of the 5RAR who were returning to Australia. The book describes the experiences faced by soldiers in Vietnam, the climate, the terrain, life in camp, the noise, the fear of not knowing who in the local population was friend or foe, lack of sleep and, of course, battles with the enemy. It was a long twelve months. The worst day was an operation on the 6th August 1967 when, in the jungle, their party came under heavy fire from the Viet Cong with many of the Australians killed or wounded.

When the men had left Australia they were given an enthusiastic send-off from their communities. When they returned home attitudes towards Australia's involvement in Vietnam had changed and the welcome home was only from their families. This was the era of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and it was advisable not to admit having served in Vietnam. The men had also changed and found it impossible to return to their former lives. Poor health, nightmares, inability to settle down, inability to relate to former friends and family were some of the challenges encountered. Although he did not know it for many years, Barry was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He decided the only way to cope with life back home was to work and study almost continuously, driving himself as hard as he could in the hope that he might sleep at night and avoid the memories of Vietnam that troubled him, particularly towards the 6th of August each year. The book describes his breakdown and how he slowly began to get his life together again with the help of his wife, doctors and especially his friends who had also served in Vietnam.

This is a moving account of the many aspects of Australia's involvement in Vietnam from the viewpoint of a participant and provides us with a greater understanding of that segment of our country's history. A must read book especially for those of us who lived during this period and only knew what was reported in the media.

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