Bill was only 19 when he flew into a Vietnam Hell
Release date: 7/12/2016
...but for fifty years, bureaucrats have denied him and many of his mates an important medal they have well and truly earned.
His best mate John Davis tells his story, which originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of The Wheel, TWU WA Branch's journal.
I first met my mate Bill sixty years ago when were six years old.
We went to a school called Forrest Grove, about 15 kilometres south of Margaret River.
The first day we met we shook hands and as some six year old would do, cut our fingers and swore to be best mates for the rest of our lives.
Up to this day, we are still the best of mates and often enjoy a cold beer together.
Both Bill’s grandfathers fought on the Western Front in World War 1. One rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and received the Distinguished Service Medal for gallantry in action.
This brave man was one of the lucky ones who returned to Australia after the war had finished.
Not long after his return, Bill’s grandfather left his family, moved interstate and became an alcoholic.
He died a recluse without two pennies to rub together.
Bill’s grandfather was suffering from what was known as shell shock - a common and debilitating condition bought on by the deafening noise and horrors of war on the frontline.
These days, it is called post-traumatic stress syndrome and there are many good organisations out there willing to help those who suffer from it.
Bill’s father also served in the Second World War and was wounded in action.
After recovering from his injuries, he was discharged and took up farming.
Bill had four sisters, three of whom served in the RAAF. The fourth was much too young and still in school at the time.
In 1967, the Vietnam War was going strong and at the age of 17 and a half, Bill decided to follow in the footsteps of his three sisters, his father, his uncles and his grandfathers, who all served their country.
Bill attempted to enlist for National Service with the intention of serving two years, including a one year deployment in Vietnam.
He was told he was too young for National Service.
Not to be denied Bill enlisted in the Regular Army, still only in his seventeenth year.
Around six weeks before turning 19, Bill commenced a twelve month tour of Vietnam as a rifleman and frontline solider.
Bill was selected as a forward scout and as any soldier who has been given that task will tell you – it’s not an envious job to be handed.
What my mate and many thousands of over brave soldiers experienced over their tours of duty was nerve wrenching, never knowing if their next step would be their last.
Vietnam was very different to previous wars. Normally you knew when you were
fighting the enemy because you could distinguish them by uniform.
In Vietnam, a lot of the time you didn’t know who or where the enemy was until they tried to kill you.
Age and gender were of no consequence.
Many of the dreadful things that happened to our soldiers can’t always be imagined through conversation. Only when you see graphic images of the conditions they fought in can you understand why so many returned in such bad shape – mentally and physically.
The reason Bill volunteered to go to war, before he was even eligible, was because he knew his father was on limited time with his health.
Bill wanted to serve his country and then return to take over the running of the family farm after active duty in Vietnam.
On his return from Vietnam, Bill requested an honourable discharge to return to the farm so he could run it.
It was granted but only on the condition that he be on active twenty four hour standby for the following five years should his services be required on the front.
Many years passed following Bill’s return to Australia and he, like many others, began to suffer from post-traumatic stress following his experiences in Vietnam as a frontline soldier.
Bill was treated accordingly and as I mentioned earlier, is still with us today.
Bill applied for the Australian Defence Force Medal which is awarded to personnel in recognition of their service to their country.
However, this medal, one of the more recognised medals, which Bill has applied for twice, is awarded with certain conditions.
Bill has been told he does not qualify for them because he came out of the army approximately seven months before his three year enlistment period was completed.
Ironically he would have received the Medal providing:
He had waited to be called up for National Service, served less time and had not gone to Vietnam, or:
Waited in the army for seven months to complete his three year enlistment, which would have meant his father would have had to sell the family farm as he was unable to manage it due to his Second World War injuries.
The medal, is awarded not for bravery or outstanding service but simply for service as a Defence Force Personnel to your country, Bill has been denied the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellow Veterans, many of whom he fought with, wearing a medal that says he is a credit to his country.
The fact he was prepared to sacrifice his own life in a combat zone for a period of twelve months does not matter.
I have attended many war services with my good mate Bill and his wife, and we both feel for him and understand.
We know how much it must hurt seeing other veterans wearing a medal he is entitled to wear but can’t due to some rule that needs to be changed.
The Department of Defence powers that be have told Bill, and other veterans in similar situations, that if they don’t like their decisions they should take them to court and, disgracefully, waste taxpayers’ money on legal proceedings, rather than just simply overturning a stupid and unjust ruling.
So with the help of the good people of Australia, we have launched a campaign to pressure the federal government to right an obvious wrong.
The fight for common sense to prevail has only just begun. We will not relevant until on Anzac Days to come and on other commemorative days all Vietnam Veterans can stand with pride wearing the Australian Defence Force Medal in recognition of their distinguished service to our country.
A petition has been drawn up, and we are looking for people to help us with is circulation.
We aim to present the petition to the House of Representatives in the New Year, in the hope we can achieve recognition for this who so clearly deserve it.
My mate Bill was a third generation solider and he was only 19 when he first landed in Vietnam.
If you can help John Davis right this wrong, give him a call on 0402 797 903. Everyone at the TWU wishes them all the best in their fight.
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