FIRST IN By Rick O’Brien, 1 RAR, Bien Hoa, Vietnam
1 RAR has a few distinctions. Apart from being the first battalion to go to Vietnam, we were the only battalion to be attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and actually formed an ANZUS unit – Australia, New Zealand and the US. We were also the only battalion to complete the first tour as an all-regular unit. It wasn’t until we arrived back in Australia that we received National Servicemen into the ranks, to replace those men who had transferred to other battalions, I assume to “spread the experience” gained during the tour.
Being attached to the Yanks was a real eye opener. The sheer number of men and equipment was bloody awesome. Nothing more so than the vast number of choppers they had at their disposal.
Imagine arriving at the airstrip in complete darkness, only to sit on your pack waiting for sunrise and to be confronted with enough choppers to lift our entire company at one go. Bloody awesome, mate! Then to be sitting in the narrow jump seat next to a Yank manning an M60, with no seat belts, no doors to make you feel secure and unable to lean back into the seat because of the pack on your back. It scared the shit out of me the first time! It was even worse for the section gunner who sat on the floor, legs hanging out of the chopper.
Those Yank pilots were bloody good. On one occasion we had to clear an LZ for a dust off to pick up the wounded. The chopper was actually clipping leaves off trees as it came down.
After an op we’d head off over to the Yanks to drink their low alcohol Schlitz and Budweiser beer and remain sober enough to walk back to our lines. On the occasions that the Yanks visited us, they’d get stuck into our VB and Fosters and we’d have to take them back to their lines. The Yanks had prefab huts to live in, a far cry from our 1940s vintage tents. Walk into a Yank hut and the first thing you’d notice was a strange smell. No, not dirty socks and jocks – WEED, mate. (I can’t spell mariwana).
On the subject of Yanks, four of us got kicked out of a Saigon bar on my first leave. I didn’t know the other three blokes as they were from different companies but one was an Aboriginal who told me to call him Fred as I wouldn’t be able to pronounce his name.
We walked into the first bar we came to and ordered a beer. Before we could even pay for it, a Yank told us that Fred would have to leave as it was a “White” bar. One thing led to another and we were unceremoniously led outside. As I picked myself up, we were confronted by one of the biggest men I’ve ever laid eyes on. His skin was as black as midnight. He told us to follow him. A little further down the road he walked into a bar and we followed, only to find the place full of blacks. When the big bloke said that we’d all been tossed out because we’d stuck by Fred, we were welcomed with open arms and just made it back in time to catch the truck back to Bien Hoa with the help of the big bloke and a couple of his mates. We were pissed out of our tiny little brains and without having to buy a beer all day.
Your mortar barrage will put exactly one round on the intended target. That round will be a dud.