CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD T Ey Pt. 8

 

CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD T. Ey Pt 8

 

That night Jake received a phone call advising him that a young Australian sailor by the name of Digney was being detained in custody and would we like to come and claim him at our convenience. Jake let him suffer the indignity for a few more hours before being rescued.

 

Digger, Blue and I kept an assortment of U.S. Officer's collar devices, and occasionally for a change of pace, we three would promote ourselves to 1st Lieutenants or Captains, and visit an Officer's mess on one of the nearby US bases. One night our accents gave us away and to absolve our sins, we were asked to mount the stage and sing 'Waltzing Matilda'. After the first verse, there was a deathly silence as we looked at each other hoping someone remembered the second verse. We didn't, so we launched into the first verse again. The Yanks didn't know the difference, and loved it. We were welcome to go back anytime, with or without the collar devices.

 

We inherited a kangaroo stencil from the previous team and by the time we left, there was hardly an EOD vehicle in Da Nang that did not have several large red kangaroos painted all over it. To the EOD community, it became something of a status symbol and we were often asked to spray their vehicles with the famous Aussie's likeness.

 

Digger became an avid collector of rank badges and unit patches. On one occasion upon meeting a very senior U.S. Admiral, a very junior Able Seaman Digney, without hesitation, informed him he "collected" collar devices and needed an Admiral's badge for his collection. To everyone's surprise, the Admiral obliged and to my knowledge, a large part of Digger's collection remains on display to this day in the Diving School at HMAS Penguin in Sydney.

 

During our quieter periods, we all assumed responsibility for various housekeeping tasks. Narra looked after the bar, Digger maintained the diving equipment, Blue took care of the victualling and I kept up the vehicles and the boat. Blue became a close friend of the on-base Chief Victualler so there was no shortage of prime U.S. beef, ribs, flavoured milk, dehydrated prawns and canned Pacific oysters. We were very fortunate in one respect to go to war with the Americans as they spared no expense to look after their 'boys in uniform'. Our formidable private weapons arsenal included personal Colt .45 calibre handguns, 5.56mm M16's, 40mm grenade launchers, a 7.62mm M60 Heavy machine-gun, CAR15's and a various assortment of captured weapons including Digger's infamous 7.62mm Soviet AK47 assault rifle. We did not leave our hootch without a .45 strapped to our side and whenever we left the camp we carried at least one 'long' weapon each, generally an M16 with 30 round magazines. Had the North Vietnamese Army marched into town during 1970-71, we were ready, or at least we thought we were.

 

One non EOD American with whom we became firm friends was Petty Officer 1st Class Roger Smiley, a Navy Seabee . During some quieter moments Roger helped me to fulfill a boyhood ambition. He was a heavy equipment instructor and he taught me to operate a Caterpillar D-8 bulldozer. After completing his tour of duty in Vietnam, Roger intended to emigrate to Australia. Unfortunately we lost contact with him after our return home.

 

One of our sadder moments was the day we discovered Fred's body. Her appetite had been her undoing. Unbeknown to us, rat poison had been laid amongst some banana palms nearby and Fred could not resist eating anything that appeared edible. Jake reported in the December 'Monthly Report of Proceedings' that "WRAN EOD FRED" had passed away on active duty. We buried her in our backyard with a suitable headstone over her grave. It read:

 


"Here lies Fred, the Meanest Monkey in the Valley R.I.P."

 

Not all EOD tasks were completed. On the 11th January, three team members were uplifted by chopper to the village of Loc Phuoc. A 500 pound Low Drag General Purpose bomb had been found by a farmer, not 50 metres from his village. He and his water buffalo had uncovered it whilst ploughing a rice paddy in preparation for planting. We decided we had two options - attempt a Low Order (partial or incomplete detonation), or try to render it safe. The first option put the village at risk, if in fact we had a High Order (normal or complete detonation), and the second option put both the village and us at risk. An interesting sideline to this situation was that had we had a High Order detonation and damaged property in the 'vill' we would be held personally responsible for the damage and be required by the South Vietnamese Authorities to pay compensation to the villagers. Incredible in a war zone, but nevertheless, a fact of life. After this was pointed out to us by a local District official, a third option emerged. We left the bomb where it was and told the official to contact the nearest ARVN EOD team. We weren't going to put up with that bullshit.

 

One of the many fascinations I found in Vietnam was the blending of the Vietnamese culture with a French/Catholic influence. Throughout the countryside were reminders of the French presence. Schools, churches and government buildings had the unmistakable imprint of French colonialism. There was a certain subdued elegance in some of the people and their towns. I was always amazed to see young Vietnamese schoolgirls heading off to school along the muddy roads, immaculately dressed in their beautiful white silk national dress, the 'Ao Dai'. Another legacy left by the French was their technique for making bread. I have not since tasted bread to match that baked by the Vietnamese.

 

During our training at Woodside South Australia, we had been introduced to the fascinating history, culture and religions of Vietnam . Fascinating because, these people had been at war with their neighbours for a thousand years. Our war was to them, a continuation of hundreds of years of determined struggle against foreign invaders. As a result of this small but valuable insight, I believe we had an advantage over the U.S. troops, as we had a clearer understanding of the land and its people. To the U.S. soldiers, they were just 'gooks'. I like to think we had a little more compassion towards the Vietnamese. The Australian Military Forces were in fact issued with "Nine Rules" covering their conduct whilst in Vietnam. They are worth repeating as they highlight a traditional Aussie attitude:-

 

1. Remember we are here only to help; we make no demands and seek no special treatment.
2. Try to understand the people, their way of life; customs and laws. 3. Learn the simple greetings of the Vietnamese language and use them frequently.
4. Treat friendly people, particularly women with respect and courtesy.
5. Don't attract attention by rude behavior or larrickinism.
6. Avoid separating us from the Vietnamese by a display of great wealth or privilege.
7. Make friends among the soldiers and people of Vietnam.
8. Remember decency and honesty are the signs of a man and a soldier; bad manners are the sign of a fool.
9. Above all remember you are an Australian, by your actions our country is judged. Set an example of sincerity and fair play in all your dealings with Vietnamese and with other people who are assisting them.

 

Looking back, I believe we (the US included) were probably on the wrong side, going back as far as 1945 . Anyone who is prepared to take on the might of the U.S. for over a decade in the pursuit of their national identity , must possess some depth of character and conviction. I think the Vietnamese had few options after the United Nations rejected their claims for autonomy at the end of WW II, and they gravitated to Communism because there was no-one else willing to help them in their struggle for national unity. The Southern regime was extremely corrupt, and their lack of will to fight showed they had little conviction other than a ravenous appetite for the rapid accumulation of wealth and power. For the senior Vietnamese Military and Government officials, this war was an extremely fortuitous opportunity to rake off an enormous percentage of the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. poured into the war effort. Many of them are living comfortably in the US today, their fortunes provided courtesy of the American taxpayer. This includes the Chief of the Saigon 'White Mice', a notorious butcher who personally executed his enemies and 'VC suspects'. There are also a number of Vietnamese living in Australia on taxpayer funded Veteran Affairs pensions.

 

Normally when we flew to points south of Da Nang, we utilized Air America, the CIA's private airline. They shuttled backwards and forwards on a regular basis between Da Nang and Saigon, and being EOD, with the highest travel priority, we were permitted to fly with them. They operated silver 'Gooney Birds' (DC2's) with airline type seats which were a vast improvement over the uncomfortable webbed seats of the C-130 Hercules. What and who the airline carried besides us was not discussed. We didn't ask and they didn't tell