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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