VETERAN MOURNS: 'Two of them died right in front of me'
FEBRUARY marked 50 years since the Warwick RSL Sub-branch president John Skinner left for a tour of Vietnam.
He joined the Fifth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR) as a reinforcement to replace sick and injured soldiers.
"I did the work of the ordinary infantry soldier,” he said.
"We walked a lot, carried all our food, water, ammunition, a groundsheet to sleep on and were ambushed almost every night. We were shot at and shot back, it's the way of life for the infantry soldier.”
To this 71-year-old veteran, Anzac Day has a special meaning.
"There were four people I knew well who were killed during their time in Vietnam and two of them died right in front of me,” Mr Skinner said.
"I've never had a day go by when I haven't thought about the day we moved into a small rubber plantation on the outskirts of a village named Dat Do and our platoon commander stood on a landmine.
"I was carrying our platoon radio and our medic, Peter Jackson, had sat down just in front of me while we waited to move into the village.
"Our platoon sergeant, John 'JJ' Kennedy, came over and sat beside Jacko almost immediately before the mine exploded.
"They both died, JJ immediately, he suffered terrible wounds to his upper body and Jacko fell forward onto my legs with frothy bright red blood bubbling out of his back. He was alive for only three or four minutes.”
Mr Skinner said it had been a sunny Sunday morning in June 1969, only six weeks before the first Moon walk.
"John Kennedy was on his second tour of Vietnam, a regular soldier, the married father of seven and a real decent bloke while Jacko, a real good friend, was a national serviceman from Dunedoo, NSW,” he said.
"My wounds were minor compared to theirs but I spent the next six weeks in hospital and wasn't able to return to infantry duties afterwards.”
The bodies of the two soldiers had taken the full effects of the mine blast and Mr Skinner was hit with shrapnel which had travelled around or through their bodies.
"Anzac Day is something special to me as a time to reflect, to remember and to mourn those two men in particular, two other friends and the 20 other boys from 5RAR who were killed while on the same tour,” he said.
"Then there's the 102,000 other Australians who have been killed in wartime and thousands more who never recovered from their wounds, be they physical or mental.”
He will lead the Warwick dawn service at 5.25am, will MC the war graves service at 8.45 and will be part of the reviewing officer's group at the main 11am service on Thursday.