August 14 - 20, 2011: Issue 19
This Sunday, commencing from 10.45am with their March from Palm Beach ferry wharf, Vietnam Veteran’s (Northern), will hold their annual Vietnam Veteran’s Day at Palm Beach RSL. We pass so many on the streets each day with no idea what their eyes have seen or where their feet have been. A mystery to each other we will remain, our collective experience missing great pieces, if we do not share with each rising generation our true stories to allow small insights into what is not a movie but an actual part of someone’s life. Months ago we approached one of the Vietnam Veteran’s in our community to find out more. This gentleman was reluctant, as so many Vietnam Vet.’s are, to speak of those times. Fortunately he was persuaded that a younger generation, in nappies when he had already grown tall, did not allow their ignorance to be compounded by arrogance.
For decades some of us have met Mark Ferguson, President of Palm Beach RSL Sub-Branch, here and there around the traps. His smile and friendly demeanour, his quick, alert and bright eyes take in all. For many years Mark was also President of the Manly Warringah Pittwater District Council of Sub-branches. He has spent many years in serving the RSL, as he states ‘it’s an excellent organisation for the Veterans to come and air their problems and get their pensions and welfare overseen. It’s there, available for all ex-service personnel…’
Mark served in Vietnam, joining the Army a few days after his 18th birthday. He trained at Wagga, then in Infantry Training at Holdsworthy for a further three months. He was in the 12th Platoon of the Delta Company of the 8th RAR (Royal Australian Regiment) which served at Malacca, Malaysia and then was sent to Vietnam, arriving November 17th, 1969. A total of 521 Australian service personnel died as a result of the Vietnam War, 496 of these were from the Australian Army. The Australian population in1968 was around 12 million, which means 1 in 200 served in Vietnam. Every community was affected.
Left: Mark, just after his 19th Birthday, while based at Malacca, Malaya.
On their return home these soldiers were vilified by many as though they were responsible for sending themselves over there. They did not receive the recognition previous returning soldiers had. Many were conscripts. Most were very young. It took until 1987 and the Welcome Home March, for some healing to begin.
Tell us a little bit about your family and Summers on Whale Beach...
I was born at Young, NSW, in 1950. A couple of years later my twin sisters, Lee and Lyn, were born. The family was very well known in the District on wool and fat lamb properties, their name being Sutherland. Sadly my father, Jack Cutler, died when I was very young. My mother remarried, to Dr. Bill Ferguson, who had a weekender at Whale Beach. This is where my life really started.
I joined Whale Beach Surf Club as a junior and participation in the club’s activities taught me a lot of life skills; IE: how to act as a man, respect your peers and have a good time without being an idiot. 50 years has passed since then and I can say those people are still as close now as they were then.
What year did you go to Vietnam?
Was I patriotic or stupid in 1968? – Vietnam- More then 60, 000 served, 521 died, 3000 were wounded. Many more have died from their own hand and from disease and illness (since). Veterans were rejected by their country – even by the RSL Hierarchy - that has changed since the Welcome Home march – which I did not attend because of the bitterness I still feel. As a Vet I still endure monthly visits to my shrink as many others do.
My Battalion, 8 RAR 1968- 1970, can stand tall. The Unit received its colours overseas in Malaysia; the only Unit to do so in the RAR. 8th RAR was awarded a unit citation emblem, Cross of Gallantry, with Palm, on 29th of October, 1970, due mainly to its involvement in the Long Hai Hills. Here the Viet Cong were down in their tunnels listening to the B52’s dropping their ordnance. Then they all popped up, (after bombers had passed) to re-engage us.
So – was I patriotic or stupid? Well- I had my 19th birthday over there. I joined the Army (just after 18th birthday) – made a few friends, lost a few too. Worth it ? No. Stupid. Definitely.
Above: The sign in front of the entrance to the stores building of the Assault Pioneer Platoon (Dig we Must), 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR) at the 1st Australian Task (1ATF) Force Base, Nui Dat. ID NUMBER: P01371.012
Where were you stationed?
Nui dat; the Australian Task Force base, the biggest base over there. We did our year there (each Battalion did a year 'tour'). We lost 18 over there.
What was the worst memory from those times ?
Our biggest problem over there was called the Long H’ai’s. The enemy was the D445 Battalion, the Vietnamese Regular Army. They had tunnels, bunkers, and hospitals underground. There were landmines everywhere. Now, we found it very hard to get in there. We were successful but we kept losing too many men through mines and other factors. So they said, no, we can’t go back up there any more, so they laid on about two weeks of B52 bombing and it didn’t make any difference. The mines; too many; lots of the men injured from these.
The Long H'ai 'Hills'. ID number P05278.002 Photographer and copyright holder McCann, Peter Place made Vietnam: Phuoc Tuy Province, Nui Dat, Date made c 1969 - 1970. Courtesy Australian War Memorial Archives.
The Long Hải Hills are hills that are located near Long Hải, in Long Điền District, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, Vietnam. During this conflict the Long Hải’s were a Viet Cong base area, known as Minh Dam secret zone. The VC D445 Battalion and VC C25 Company used these hills as a supply and staging areas.
In early 1970 8th RAR took part in Operation Hammersley, a reconnaissance operation in the Long Hải area. Beginning on 10 February battles of six hours or more duration are recorded. On 18 February the 8th RAR captured a large bunker complex after the Vietnamese Communist defenders withdrew due to constant bombardment. The operation continued until the 9th of March, with the battalion carrying out patrols and engaging the enemy where they encountered them. 8th RAR's tour of Vietnam ended in October 1970, by which time it had lost 18 men and suffered 108 wounded. On 8 August 1966, when first raised, the 8th RAR had a strength of 370 men, including 150 experienced soldiers.
There were also scorpions on the ground, particularly in hill terrains, black spiders that dropped out of trees, and malaria to contend with. Many were bitten by the scorpions and spiders and describe hours of acute pain afterwards. Mark recalls being bitten by a scorpion and having to take daily doses of paludrine tablets. (Paludrine tablets contain the active ingredient proguanil hydrochloride, which is an antimalarial medicine used to prevent malaria.). The wet jungles and long patrols also caused problems with their feet.
How long were you in the Army?
Six years. I spent about six to seven months in Malacca and then went to Vietnam for a year. I came back to Australia and then went over to Singapore for about two and a half years.
What was the best memory of those times?
Receiving the Colours at Malacca. The unit also received a Gallantry Cross too, for the action up in the Long H’ai in 1970.
The Colonel Commandant of the Regiment, LTGEN Sir Reginald Pollard, KBE, CB, DSO, presented 8 RAR with its Queen's and Regimental Colours at Terendak on 25 Sep 1968. In honour of their alliance with 8 RAR, 2 PARA held the ground. The Australian Prime Minister of then, John Gorton visited the Battalion at this time. The Battalion is called the Grey Eight due to these colours. The 8th RAR was awarded the South Vietnamese Government's Meritorious Unit Commendation, including Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation for its successful role in operations in the Long H’ai hills.
You started Vietnam Veteran’s Day at Palm Beach RSL; could you tell us a little about the impetus behind this?
I started Vietnam Veteran’s (Northern) at Palm Beach RSL in 2002 with Ian Traveller and John Roxburgh due to the distance Vets had to travel to Vietnam Veteran’s Services (held in the Blue Mountains or Holdsworthy). The main idea was to get Vet’s together to meet on the day. When we meet up we can talk about our ongoing problems (and ways to address them) and to generally catch up and to interact with the Public and to raise money. The reason we raise money is for next year’s day. The biggest day we had was attended by 160 people, which was great. This year we’re having a band from Avalon Public School. We have a meet and greet and a Service; we have raffles. The main thing is for the Vet.s to get together and have a good time as we don’t see each other all that often. Only on that day.
When did you marry Lynette?
In 2004 - she's the love of my life. I'm sure I wouldn't still be here if I hadn't met her.
What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?
Apart from Palm Beach RSL it’s anywhere from Avalon to Whale Beach, Palm Beach. I was brought up at Whale Beach.
Everywhere from Avalon to Palm Beach, but Whaley is my favourite due to having spent so much time there.
What is your motto for life?
Above: Mark Ferguson, Peter Rumble and Gary Ederitt return for the Sunset Ceremony and Avalon Tattoo reception.
The motto of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia is:
Honour the dead but fight like hell for the living
OFFICIAL 8 RAR Website: http://8rarassociation.org/index.php
8th RAR in Long Hai Hills: http://perandis.tripod.com/8rartribute.htm
8th RAR Presentation of Colours: http://www.taylor.id.au/colours.htm
Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia: http://www.vvaa.org.au/images.htm
8th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment
8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR) was raised on 14 July 1966 at Enoggera in Queensland. It arrived in South Vietnam on 17 November 1969, relieving 9RAR on 25 November. The battalion formed part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) with 5RAR and 6RAR. It was based at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy province. One of the major operations the battalion engaged in was Operation Hammersley (10 February-9 March), a reconnaissance operation in the Long Hai area.
Australian troops in Vietnam returned on Saturday to the scene of Wednesday's battle - the biggest for six months - to sweep the area. For two days the area had been plastered with artillery and air strikes, culminating in a strike by the giant US B-52 bombers at dawn on Saturday. The battle took place in the foothills of the Long Hai mountains, 10 miles south of the Task Force base at Nui Dat. For six-and-a-half hours elements of 8th Battalion clashed with about 50 enemy, one company of the hardcore D445 VC Battalion. The Australians took light casualties and also had one APC destroyed and two APCs and two tanks damaged by the enemies' rocket propelled grenades. Battalion Commander, 1122 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Keith John O'Neill of Alderley, Qld, controlled the battle from a miniature fire base on the western side of the mountains. Mortars based there fired across the range in support of the troops. After the battle the troops were withdrawn to enable air and artillery to be brought in on known and suspected enemy bunker systems. At dawn on Saturday - two days after softening up - the troops returned to the scene with armoured vehicles. They moved at first light. This time they were prepared for the enemy’s rocket propelled grenades. They were wearing flak jackets and steel helmets. Once in position the area of the original battle, two platoons and a troop of tanks swept through. The tanks fired their 20-pounder guns into bunker systems and gunships flew overhead to give additional fire support if required. Once part of the battle area was cleared of any enemy Lt Col O'Neill flew in to talk to the Company Commander, 13527 Major David Rankine MC, MID of Keperra, Qld, and to look at the bunker and tunnel systems found. From; http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/F04428
National Film and Sound Archives Terrain footage of South Vietnam from: http://aso.gov.au/titles/sponsored-films/terrain-study-phuoc-tuy/clip1/
Welcome Home March Info: http://vietnam-war.commemoration.gov.au/commemoration/
Australian Army website: http://www.army.gov.au/
Vietnam Veterans Day
15 August 2008 by Libby Stewart.
News, Battle of Long Tan, Vietnam
Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on 18 August every year. The day was originally known as Long Tan Day, chosen to commemorate the men of D Company, 6RAR who fought in the battle of Long Tan in 1966. On that day, 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. The Australians prevailed, but only after fighting in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun, but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base, and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded, the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian task force had arrived a few months earlier. After the battle the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.
On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR. Veterans from the battle gathered at the cross to commemorate the fallen, and the day was commemorated by them as Long Tan Day from then on. Over time, all Vietnam veterans adopted the day as one to commemorate those who served and died in Vietnam. In 1987, following the very successful Welcome Home parade for Vietnam veterans in Sydney, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that Long Tan Day would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Since then, it has been commemorated every year as the day on which the service of all those men and women who served in Vietnam is remembered.
Vietnam Vets marching in Anzac Day parades for first time: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/vietnam-vets-take-rightful-place-in-anzac-day-marches-20100424-tkc9.html AND: http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-6644441/Rebellion-and-remembrance-the-Vietnam.html
5th RAR (warning, contains graphic transcriptions): http://www.5rar.asn.au/narrative/longhai.htm.
Copyright Mark Ferguson, 2011.