This photograph appeared on the web site of the Australian Army Trackers and
War Dogs Association in September 2006. The soldiers and dogs in the picture are members of the Antitank Platoon, 3RAR. I
believe the picture was taken the day after the first North Vietnamese attack on Fire Support Base Coral on the 13th of May
The picture brought with it a flood of memories for me, from the months I spent
as a member of that same Anti-tank platoon. I was the platoon's radio operator (commonly known as "platoon sig")
from January 1968 until shortly before the picture was taken.
I’ve decided to tell the story of those months, at least as much as I
remember them. Some of these memories are still quite fresh in my mind, while others are fading with the passage of time.
Parts of this story may seem like some kind of Boy’s Own adventure. But it is all true. The Tet Offensive made the months
of February, March, April and May of 1968 different from any other phase of the Vietnam War.
Before I get started, I should probably explain why I am doing this. I have
already written a couple of short stories based on my Vietnam experiences, and my poetry has been circulating around the world
for some years now. In fact, it has been studied at high school and university level in nine countries that I am aware of.
But so far I have not attempted to write my own Vietnam story.
The photograph was the trigger, coupled with a number
of things that were happening in my life at the time that I first saw the photo. When I think about my tour of duty in Vietnam
(and I think about it every day of my life), I think about those four months, starting with the Tet Offensive and ending when
3RAR departed Fire Support Base Balmoral and returned to Nui Dat at the end of the biggest battle Australia fought in the
Vietnam War. The rest of my tour, from June until November 1968, is a blur. I continued to participate in every one of my
battalion’s operations, but they tend to merge into each other. I can remember incidents, but I could not necessarily
say on what operation or in what month they happened. Those four months, February, March, April and May of 1968, are the core
of my Vietnam service, and are the key to the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for which I am now on a full disability
pension. I spent most of that time with the Anti-Tank Platoon, and I feel more of a connection with that platoon than with
any other sub-unit with which I served.
In recent months, in my voluntary work with the
Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia, I have been doing my best to expose what I regard as the scandalous situation in
which the Department of Veterans Affairs has been sub-contracting to a private company, Writeway Research, the task of investigating
claims lodged by veterans who believe that they have been traumatised by incidents that occurred in the course of their war
or defence service. With the help of their hired guns at Writeway, the Department has been prepared to mount cases against veterans
based on nothing more than the absence of an official record of an incident, or a faulty memory on the part of the veteran.
This is, of course, in defiance of the Veterans Entitlements Act, which contains a section which deems such action by the
Department to be unlawful.
An inability to tolerate injustice is one of the
many symptoms of PTSD. When I am lying awake at night, unable to sleep because of my anger at the DVA and Writeway, my mind
wanders to my own service in Vietnam, in the context of memory and official records. In my own memoirs, there will be many
occasions on which I will point out that my memory of an incident is at variance with the official record. I will also point
out occasions on which the official record is wrong, or lacking sufficient accuracy. For example, at the very beginning of
my Vietnam story, I relate the incidents in which Anti-Tank Platoon was involved on the periphery of the Battle of Baria,
on the first day of the Tet Offensive. The battalion’s history makes no mention of Anti-Tank Platoon in its account
of the Battle of Baria on that day. Perhaps even more significantly, I will tell the story of the occasion when I, as the
radio operator, sent a deliberately falsified contact report, because members of the platoon wanted to cover up the fact
that we had killed an unarmed man in an overnight ambush patrol. That false report has now become the official record of that
The hope that writing these things down will help
me to sleep at night is one of my motivations to write my memoirs. I also hope that other veterans will be able to cite my
memoirs as an example of the futility of reliance on official records, especially in relation to the Vietnam War.
The other connection between my thoughts on the
Department of Veterans Affairs, Writeway Research and my decision to write my Vietnam memoirs is the concept of the severe
stressor. In order to have a psychological condition, such as PTSD, anxiety state or alcohol abuse, accepted as war-caused,
a veteran needs to demonstrate that he suffered one or more “severe stressors” during his operational service. I have noticed that the veterans targeted by the Department for investigation by Writeway
tend to be those who did not see a lot of combat, and who have cited only one or two severe stressors. The Department then
hands out the taxpayer’s money to Writeway to find out whether it can mount a case against the veteran by casting doubt
on the stressors he has cited.
When I saw that photo of Anti-Tank Platoon on the
Trackers web site, I had been doing research on cases involving Writeway. Thinking about my time with the platoon, I could
not help pondering the fact that some veterans can be psychologically traumatised by a single stressor. Meanwhile, platoons
like Anti-Tank can spend an entire year facing severe stressors day after day. I decided it was about time somebody told their
story. I was only with them for four months, and they went on, presumably at the same pace, for another eight months after
I left them. So I hope one of the platoon’s members will one day complete the story. I the meantime what follows here
will at least be a start.