REVISITED: Barry Kelly is heading back to Vietnam, where it all began 50 years ago.
REVISITED: Barry Kelly is heading back to Vietnam, where it all began 50 years ago. Jonno Colfs

Warwick veteran heads back to the battleground

ALCOHOLISM, suicide, trauma, fear and pain have plagued Warwick Vietnam veteran Barry Kelly across 50 years, but next week he's heading back to the battlefields around Nui Dat and Long Tan for the first time, to see if can leave a few of his demons where they came from.

Like his father before him and his father's father, Mr Kelly joined the army and two years later, in 1966 at the age of 19, he shipped out to Vietnam.

Part of the 1st Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers Mr Kelly spent his 12 month tour in and around Nui Dat.

"One day this little boy walked into the base at Nui Dat," he said.

"He was five years old, and had two skinny, flea-infested cows with him.

"His parents had been killed and he'd walked from Cambodia, a six-hour bus ride away."

Mr Kelly said he and the other soldiers fed the boy, known only as Mudguts, for a few days before they got some leave and took him to an orphanage at Ba Ria.

 

Barry Kelly in 1966 with a young Cambodian orphan who the soliders affectionately named Mudguts.
Barry Kelly in 1966 with a young Cambodian orphan who the soliders affectionately named Mudguts. Contributed

"The nuns said they'd look after him and to the best of my knowledge they did."

From then on, whenever the soldiers had a break they and the engineers would make swings, slides and toys for the kids in the orphanage, taking food and fresh water when they could.

Next week, Mr Kelly and travelling companion and fellow vet Terry Smart will return to the orphanage to offer a little more help.

"Through a gofundme page and from donations from others we've got about $1000, which is $17,500,000 Vietnamese dong," Mr Kelly said.

"I've often thought about those kids and where they are now."

During his days on the ground in Vietnam, Mr Kelly worked as a field engineer, later known as tunnel rats.

"I was skinny, 19 and bullet-proof," he said.

"Mostly I'd find rice or weapons and grenades down in those tunnels.

"It was just something that had to be done."

Mr Kelly's father was captured by Germans on Crete in World War II, spending four and a half years behind the wire as a POW.

"He never spoke about it," Mr Kelly said.

"Just as I never speak about it, that's the way it goes.

"Anzac Day is a day of reflection for me, more on Dad's side of things, what he went through.

"I don't know what's going to happen when I go back to Vietnam,

"I've turned a corner since giving up the drink nine years ago, I don't want it all to come flooding back.

"My wife, mates and psychiatrist are all right behind me, there's a lot of support, hopefully I leave the ghosts behind."

Mr Kelly and Mr Smart will tour for Vietnam for 17 days, taking in the sights and most importantly, the food.



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