Brian Cunningham has sent me a lot of emails with information that will probably be of interest to most "Ninth Intake" people.

Rather than send each email out to everyone I've put them on a web page.

Terry Fogarty
1/11/2011
terry.fogarty5@gmail.com
 

 

A DAY IN THE VILLAGE.

(Story by Brian Cunningham)

 On 18 December 1968, whilst on Operation Goodwood in Phuoc Tuy province, 5 Platoon (24 Diggers) mounted three APC's and was driven to a village which fronted Highway 15. Our purpose for being there was to provide protection for an Australian medical team while they spent the day attending to sick villagers. The medical tern set themselves up in one of the huts in the village. There was a queue outside the hut all day long. I joined the queue early in the morning while it was still short to allow the medics to remove a large, bush tick from my scalp. The tick had probably been there for a couple of days, and was hooked into my skin so firmly that Andy was unable to dislodge it for me.

 We had a great time with the village kids that day. There was always a group of half a dozen or more kids sitting around each pair of Diggers surrounding the medical hut. I never liked the idea of throwing sweets at a group of kids just to watch the mad scramble to get them. The eldest and biggest kids always won. I liked to look over the group of kids to find the runt of the litter; the smallest kid, or youngest kid, or maybe a kid with a disability. Then I would walk over to him/her and place the sweet in his/her hand. If time allowed I would stick around until the kid ate the sweet, ensuring that the bigger kids did not take it away from him/her.

 Early in the afternoon a kid came around selling Budweiser beer. One of the villagers brought out a comfortable looking barber's chair, and gave a few of the Diggers a haircut and scalp massage. I didn't have a haircut because my scalp was feeling too sensitive from the tick venom.

 Among the group of kids who claimed possession of Andy and me was a little girl about 8 or 9 years old. She was a nice little girl who wore beads and earrings, and had a happy smile. The other kids kept telling us that she was a boy, We did not believe them because she was so obviously a girl. Eventually one of the boys came up behind her, and pulled her pyjama pants down to her knees. And there it was for all to see - a male appendage. The other kids laughed at the girllboy as he quickly pulled up his pyjama pants. It was a definite shock to Andy and me. We attempted to find out from the kids why the little boy was being raised as a girl. We couldn't speak much of their language, and they couldn't speak much of ours, so we were never sure if we got the story right or not. The Viet Cong (VC) were mentioned a lot by the kids during our questioning. All Andy and I could make of the situation was that the boy was being raised as a girl, so when he as old enough to be recruited by the VC, they would not take him because he was a girl. It didn't make much sense to either of us, because there were plenty of female VC running around in the jungle.

 If I was ever asked to name the best day we had in Vietnam, the answer would be the day we spent in the village protecting the medical team. Why that day? Because that was. the only time we were involved in anything at the humanitarian level. Because the Adds made it such an enjoyable and peaceful day for us.

On 11 December 1968 we left our base at Nui Dat to move to the Hat Dich area situated in the north-east of Phuoc Tuy province for the start of Operation Goodwood. Once there we dug a company-size defensive position, meaning we dug chest-deep pits to sleep and fight in, and covered them with sandbag roofs. From that fixed position we patrolled and ambushed in platoon strength. We were still on the operation on Christmas Day.

 For Christmas lunch we had roast turkey dished out from hotboxes. This was the first time in my life that I had eaten roast turkey. It didn't look quite the way I thought roast turkey should look. Mushy meat swimming in gravy was scooped into our dixies, along with a generous serving of baked vegetables. It might not have looked like roast turkey, but it sure did taste good. We also had three cans per man of warm Fourex beer to help wash it down.

 Andy and I were sitting next to the hole in the ground that we had been calling home for the past two weeks. We were busy eating our turkey mush, and enjoying our warm beer, when General Macdonald, Mr Freath (the Minister for Air), the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), and an entourage of half a dozen Public Relations people walked up to us. We did not practice military protocol in the jungle. Nobody wore rank markings or saluted. That ensured the enemy could not easily identify the officers, and so shoot them first (which, I thought, was a damn shame in some cases).

 The General looked at Andy and asked "What will you be doing this time next year, soldier? Andy replied, "Whatever it is, it will he a bloody lot better than what I am doing this time this year." Andy did not bother to add 'Sir' to the end of his reply. I was pretty certain that doing away with military traditions in the jungle did not extend to not calling Generals 'Sir'. Andy continued to eat his meal without looking up. I could see the General's face slowly going red from the neck up. He asked Andy, "What do you mean by that statement, soldier?" Andy replied, "This time next year there won't be any bastard shooting at me." I supposed the General didn't get to be a General just by dumb luck. He was obviously a very intelligent man, and he was about to use his above average power of reason on Andy. The General asked Andy, "Did you know that there are more 20 year olds being killed on the roads back home than are being killed over here?" Without the slightest hesitation Andy replied, "I know where I'd rather be taking my bloody chances."

 The General's face turned purple. He turned to me, glaring into my eyes for a full minute, as if daring me to laugh. I forced my mind to go blank. The General asked me, "How is your Christmas lunch, soldier?". I didn't wish to end up in the military prison in Vung Tau, so I decided it was time to lick his boots a little. I replied, "The turkey mush is delicious, sir,and I would like to thank you and the Army for the three cans of warm beer, sir." By the look on his face I could see that he wanted to have me -executed on the spot.  Instead,  he stormed off with his entourage trailing behind him.

 Not long after, he left with his entourage in two RAAF choppers to return to Vung Tau to partake in his own lavish Christmas lunch. He would, no doubt, tell his guests that he had just spent the morning out in the jungle raising the morale of his troops. He had certainly left Andy and me with smiles on our faces.

 On 4 October 1968, B Coy relieved D Coy on 'Me Horseshoe, a horseshoe-shaped, volcanic feature just north of the village of Dat Do. Each of the five infantry companies of 4RAR/NZ were used in rotation to man this very prominent feature in Phuoc Tuy province. B Coy spent the next six weeks patrolling the countryside surrounding the hill, and manning checkpoints. This patrolling duty was much easier than being on another long operation.

Late one morning 5 Platoon was returning from a three-day reconnaissance patrol of the countryside around Xuyen Moc to the cast of The Horseshoe. We were just about at the base of The Horseshoe when we were told over the radio to hold our position. About an hour later we were told to proceed on up the hill. There was a camera crew from the Aussie TV media preparing to film our return, and we had arrived back from patrol a bit too early for them. The 18 or so of us got to say hello to our families and friends back home, and to wish them all a Merry Christmas. Our messages were to be shown on three Brisbane TV channels on Christmas day. The film crew took care to get our names and regimental numbers correct, because it was still only October and some of us might not be around by Christmas. They considered it would be poor taste to show a Digger wishing his Mum a Merry Christmas on TV after he was already dead.