Warwick vet remembers chaos that ruled the Vietnam jungle
Gordon Neilson will today honour the men whose names are etched on the stone work of the Warwick cenotaph, their sacrifice and how lucky he was to survive his two tours of Vietnam.
He spent 26 years in the Australian Army and was already enlisted 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment when the Australian Government sent it to fight in 1965.
It was the first Australian battalion to join the war.
"While over there we were at Bien Hoa attached to the American 173rd Airborne Brigade,” Mr Neilson said.
As infantry, his job was to go into the jungle, find the enemy and destroy it.
"We did a lot of operations over there, mostly it was patrolling, boring stuff but never knowing if anything was going to happen,” he said.
"At times it was quite chaotic and nothing seemed go to plan.”
Between the enemy troop movement and haphazard nature of the allied chain of command, danger was always present.
Mr Neilson said he was lucky he and his follow soldiers made it home alive.
"We were on Operation Silver City, half the platoon had gone on patrol down by a river, they reckon they have seen the Viet Cong so they called us over,” he said.
"We found the end of a vehicle track with some empty 44-gallon drums.”
The platoon followed the truck up a hill, passed communication cables and barricades made from reeds and grasses.
"When we got up the top there were bunkers everywhere,” he said.
"If the VC were in the camp we would have been in big trouble.”
Without knowing it the platoon walked into the middle of an empty Viet Cong camp.
The occupants must have been on patrol so Mr Neilson and his platoon kept moving, following a track to the river.
"As we approached we heard a bloody great splash,” he said.
"Someone had seen us, dived in to the river and swam across the river. We found his boots sitting by the bank.”
In early November, 1965, he was called to secure a helipad to evacuate the bodies of more than 40 Americans and Australians after a heavy fire fight during Operation Hump.
"It was not very nice to see the number of bodies coming in. Just body bag after body bag,” Mr Neilson said.
"But we left two Australia boys on that hill that we couldn't get out because of the fire fight.
"It about 40 years after that that a group went over and found the pit they were thrown in.”
After the war Mr Neilson remained in the army for another 23 years until he retired as a Warrant Officer Second Class.
"There was a lot that I enjoyed about my time in the army,” he said.
"The trick is to remember the good and try forget the bad.”