My dad was 20, living in Melbourne and in 1966, his birth date was called out on TV. This meant that that he, along with others, would have to report to an army office to be conscripted, in order to protect Australia â€śfrom the communistsâ€ť in Vietnam. He was engaged to my 17 year old mother at the time. Dad had been successfully running his own building business , since he was 17. As he later commented, he went willingly, in the â€śspirit of the Anzac traditionâ€ť and did what he was asked to do â€“ â€śmy birth date was pulled out of a box on TV".
He did his required deployment, but stayed on, and ended up staying for a total of 10 years. During this time, he also married my mother and they had my older brother. Due to his absences, mum did most of the child-raising. When dad eventually quit the army, he resumed his previous vocation as a self-employed builder, with success.
I ponder how my mother coped with a husband who was in Vietnam and a small child, all the while watching the news coverage of the war on tv (it was, the first 'televised' war).
There were certain things that my siblings and I had to accept as kids, without really knowing why. For example, on New Years Eve, unlike all the other families I knew, we were never allowed to sit and watch the fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge, because Dad hated the sound of the fireworks. He also used to break out in a cold sweat at the sound of a chopper. Mum used to say, it was because he "spent too much time in the jungles in Vietnam".
It wasn't until I was about 17, whilst watching a report on 60 Minutes, that I realized he showed some signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although he would never admit or acknowledge it.
In the 1970â€™s, due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, people treated returned Vets badly and dad, along with many other Vets, felt alienated. I recall once being in a pub, when I was very little. It was after weâ€™d watched the parade on Anzac Day and Dad was chatting to an old guy, who jokingly made a comment, (he was a WW2 Vet); "Oh well, at least we won OUR bloody war, not like you blokes!" Dad biffed him, right then and there!
In October, 1987, the Vietnam Veterans proudly marched through the streets in Australia and the country opened its heart and welcomed them back in. People lined the streets, waving and cheering. It was a wonderful day of acknowledgment.
Dad made lifelong friends in Vietnam, some of whom he kept in touch with, right up until his death four years ago, including some American friends he'd made whilst deployed. He told me that they had introduced him "to all good music; R 'n' B, soul, bloody good stuff".
I can remember as a child, seeing the letters arrive in the post, bearing exotic stamps, postmarked USA, from the families of blokes whom he'd met whilst in Vietnam. Sometimes, a letter would arrive or he'd get a call from a family member and the news wasn't good, like the time one of his old mates had committed suicide.
After dad retired from his building career, 6 years ago, I bought him a computer, and he was thrilled to bits at being able to contact some of his old mates!
He was in the process of planning a return trip to Vietnam, of which my brother and myself were to have accompanied him, when he received news that he had lymph cancer. He was also planning to go to the USA, to catch up with some old mates. He passed away 4 years ago, on 17th August.
When I hear the sounds of Otis Redding, or Jimi Hendrix, or the Easybeats, I think of dad. I think about the trip he never made back to Vietnam and of the trip he never made to the USA. I also think about all of the sacrifices he made for this country, as a 20 year old.
In the end, it wasn't "charlie" that took his life, it was 'jack the dancer'.