Vietnam, An Introduction to Life

11 Sep

It was late in the afternoon of the 19th November 1970, when the Qantas flight from Sydney began its descent for landing, into one of the busiest airports in the world, at that time. Tan Son Nhut, Saigon Vietnam. At the height of the Vietnam war, it was recorded a plane landing and taking off, every two minutes.

My Tour of duty, as a 20 year old soldier in Vietnam, was about to begin, I never could understand why serving in a war zone is labelled, Tour of Duty, there are certainly no tour guides, and many places were out of bounds, no go zones.

The battlefields of Vietnam were a far cry, from the battle training grounds of Canungra Queensland.

The flight over, apart from being long, carried an assortment of servicemen; all carrying their weapons on board and back packs in the overhead lockers, other personal equipment being stored in the cargo hold. To a casual observer it would have appeared as a normal holiday flight, Qantas being a civil airlines, there were stewardesses on board serving drinks and meals, smoking on airline flights had not been banned in those days, so there was a blue misty haze throughout the cabin.

There were a variety of servicemen on board the flight, old timers who were returning for second tours, and in some cases, third tours, young Regular soldiers like myself, and the biggest proportion being National servicemen, whose numbers were drawn out of a barrel, exactly as in a Lotto draw. This method of selecting National servicemen, was the cause of much unrest in Australia, and gave rise to demonstrations and burning draft cards.

The only interruption on the flight was a stopover at Singapore, we were advised in advance of the need for two things, one being a passport, which we all had that was issued by the army, ironic that they were all stamped, Not Valid for North Vietnam, the second item was a civilian shirt for landing in Singapore, as Singapore was a neutral country, and couldn’t be seen as providing safe passage for soldiers to Vietnam. The colour of the top half of the army green shirts began to change, the Australian humour was evident, there were Hawaiian shirts with dancing girls, some white shirts with ties and cravats, and some shirts that looked like girls blouses, departing Singapore the mood soon changed, as we changed back into the army green which was to be our colour from then on.

The wheels touched down on Vietnam soil, and we commenced the roll to the terminal, the runway seemed to never end, there were runways in all directions, some with planes landing, some with planes taking off. There were military cargo planes, Civilian planes from all countries, small planes, Helicopters of all sizes and descriptions, and everywhere vehicles dodging in and out of planes. Gazing through the plane window I saw many planes lining the runway that were parked in concrete and sandbagged hangers or revetments, then I saw my first glimpse of war, burnt out planes pushed to the sides of the runway, a stark reminder of the 1968 Tet offensive, that saw Tan Son Nhut attacked as well as major facilities in and around Saigon.

We rolled to a stop at the terminal, the cabin doors were opened and I felt the first rush of Vietnam, the heat was like a fireball; it rushed through the cabin erasing any memory’s of the air-conditioned flight over.

Descending the steps, our normally green shirts quickly began to change to black, as the oppressive heat began to have the sweat pouring from our body’s.There was no cooling breeze, just a dry humid heat that seemed to suck the air from our lungs.

My nostrils were assailed by the smells of gasoline and oils, and yet a pervading scent of humanity trying to survive, sweet and aromatic, yet tainted by a decaying aroma seemed to hover in the oppressive heat.

I stood on the tarmac that stretched for miles in every direction, waiting for further directions to where our buses were located, and buses that were to convey us to our initial Vietnam base.

Activity was happening all around us, troops embarking and debarking in every direction, maintenance vehicles and refuelling vehicles scuttling like ants, armament vehicles loading their deadly fire power, and everywhere I saw the ever presence of Military police.

I stood on that sweltering tarmac, and watched as a massive flying bird, the C130 cargo plane was being loaded, an endless file of soldiers were loading large wooden boxes on board, much like a conveyor belt, suddenly I felt an arm on my shoulder, I looked around and saw its owner, a very large African American soldier, skin so dark it appeared purple in the shimmering heat reflecting from the tarmac. Don’t you go praying for them there boys Aussie, he said, keep your prayers for yourself, they are the lucky boys, they are going home.

To Be Continued



Posted by on September 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


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24 responses to “Vietnam, An Introduction to Life

  1. Trish McNamara

    February 20, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Hi Ian,
    It is great to catch up with you through your writings. So many people can not write about or talk about Vietnam to this day. I read as much as I can, as my father never spoke about his times in Vietnam. Looking forward to the follow up of this story.
    Also looking forward to reading all your other writings/stories. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers, Trish

    • The Emu

      February 21, 2016 at 2:39 am

      Hi Trish, many thanks for taking the time to read my posts and comment, I appreciate your kind words on my writings.
      Still recovering from my Chilean adventure, covered a lot of territory in the time there, future posts will have fantastic pics of the Hanging Glacier and Continental Ice shelf, seem to have done a years hiking in six weeks, the old back is getting a bit stressed these days.
      Thanks for reading my introduction to Vietnam, I had forgotten I had started that story, maybe old age but I seem to have lost interest in that part of my life, with what is going on around the world my little experience seems insignificant in the overall picture, somewhere down the track I will continue my story.
      Best wishes and kind regards.
      Ian aka Emu

  2. natswans

    October 21, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing this interesting Story , It will be good to hear a follow from this Ian.
    Great Post..

    • The Emu

      October 22, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Hi Sheila, glad you enjoyed my reminiscences from the past, it has taken me a while to write that story, I have a follow up to it but I have to get my memory in order to write it as it was.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I do hope you are well and enjoying life, I send you kind regards and best wishes.
      Aussie Emu aka Aussie Ian

  3. reocochran

    September 19, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you for writing this post, Emu. I liked hearing about your “tour if duty” which was definitely not a fun tour nor a vacation. I am proud of your serving yet our family had decided not to support this “skirmisj” which was war. My brothers may have left the U.S. and become vagabonds with full support of my parents. So glad they were just missed in the draft. Your experiences are invaluable. I had 2 cousins who I wrote sbiut, twins and one came back unscathed and unaffected but the other one saw a different picture and was forever broken and changed. He became an artist and attempted marriage and still had a lot of post traumatic stress syndrome. Take care and bug hugs sent upur way. ♡

    • The Emu

      September 20, 2015 at 1:50 am

      Hi Robin, I to am diagnosed PTSD, it all depends on what role you played in Vietnam, every soldier saw things differently, some came home unscathed as you said, others saw more and it haunts them for life. For me I believe all Vietnam Vets cannot really adapt, as they were on an Adrenalin run for so long, that when they came home, their Adrenalin didn’t come down.
      Don’t blame your brothers for leaving the US, in hindsight they did the right thing, it was a pathetic political war.

      • reocochran

        September 26, 2015 at 6:26 am

        I am sorry you also suffer like my cousin, Johnny, from the trauma of this very scary war. The jungles, the sneak attacks without warning and unspeakable acts must have been frightening. I imagine adrenaline would kerp you awake and always on guard, Emu.
        I am still proud of those who serve but sometimes feel there are uncivilized situations where we “lose” no matter what we do.
        Your post would make a good book, Ian. Expanding your varied experiences in a fascinating life well led, my friend.
        They did not have to choose to leave but at a family meeting, that was our unanimous suggestion if the Draft had continued. They blessedly did not have to choose this option. Thanks dor supporting their decision, had they been forced into going.

        • The Emu

          September 26, 2015 at 7:22 am

          I appreciate your interest in my story, thought about making it into a book.
          Would be quite an interesting finish, as time and wisdom, has taught me that it was all political and in vain.
          My book would finish in agreement with the your family’s decision.
          Sad part Robin, the same scenario is happening all the time, young guys fighting for politics with the goal posts changing all the time.

  4. olganm

    September 19, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Fascinating recollection, and from your replies to the comments, there’s much more to come…

  5. Monica

    September 13, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    an awesome recollection, Ian – only the beginning, I hope — heat like a fireball – your words make that unreality real

    • The Emu

      September 15, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks Monica for that comment, much appreciated.

    • The Emu

      September 16, 2015 at 6:06 am

      Thanks Monica, my book is starting to come alive with memory’s now, but I do recall that heat as being horrendous when it hits your body for the first time.
      Kind regards.

  6. prenin

    September 11, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    These things should never be forgotten… 😦

    God Bless my friend! 🙂


    • The Emu

      September 11, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      Certainly do Prenin, only starting to write my story now.

  7. Sue Mac

    September 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Keep writing Ian, many need and want to read what you have to say, me being one,Ross say hi and the book in mail Monday
    Take care my friend

    • The Emu

      September 11, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks Sue, decided to write my recollections of Vietnam, time might dispute some facts and a bit of bullshit will add to the story, but overall it’s the truth, looking forward to the book Sue, many thanks, cheers girl.

  8. GP Cox

    September 11, 2015 at 10:15 am

    That place was the sewer of hell.

    • The Emu

      September 11, 2015 at 10:44 am

      At the time gp it was hell, looking back on it I see it all in a different light, I am fortunate I survived, and also that in my time there I developed a great appreciation for the country, their beliefs and lifestyle, so much so I did get married there in a Buddhist temple, think that was just one of the scams the local girls used to exploit the war for an income, I have no regrets.
      Cheers mate.

      • auntyuta

        September 11, 2015 at 12:05 pm

        Was it a proper marriage, Ian? For how long did it last?

        • The Emu

          September 11, 2015 at 12:37 pm

          No Uta, not a legal marriage, it was a scam set up by the local girls with a few dodgy Buddhists, it was based on making money, it was a regular occurrence and accepted as a joke among all the servicemen in Vietnam, mainly Americans.

        • The Emu

          September 11, 2015 at 12:37 pm

          It usually lasted a few weeks, maybe a month or so.

  9. suchled

    September 11, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Now these are the posts I’ve been waiting for from you. Fantastic.

    • The Emu

      September 11, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Starting to work on them now mate, memory needs to be recorded even if they are short recollections.


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