Isaacs, Australian Capital Territory
Patrick O’Hara was 18 and working in the Australian Public Service, when he heard he had been conscripted for two years National Service in the Army. The news came as a huge surprise. Patrick had assumed that his birthday would be missed in the ballot as he had never been picked for anything before.
While some other people were objecting to having to do National Service, Patrick regarded it as an opportunity for adventure, offering the prospect of new and exciting experiences. His family opposed the war in Vietnam and, while they accepted the news, it created some tension.
At the time, he did not even know where Vietnam was.
From April 1967, Patrick was posted to 108 Battery, 4 Field Regiment, training at Puckapunyal and in Sydney as a Gunner before his deployment to Vietnam. As an artilleryman, he served as a Forward Observer with B Company 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Nui Dat. He recalls that the National Servicemen (Nashos) and regular soldiers got on very well and respected each other, despite the differences in backgrounds and ages of the men. This led to some lasting and valuable friendships.
During Operation Coburg in 1968, Patrick and several other soldiers had a lengthy contact with the enemy, with bullets flying overhead and gunfire coming from all directions. As young Nashos, Patrick and his mate had not experienced the intensity of front line contact before. Without warning, the Sergeant announced that it was time for a cup of tea. Crouching behind a big tree drinking their tea, while bullets were flying around them, Patrick felt much calmer. Years later, the Sergeant recalled having never felt so scared. He remembered his awareness of the need to alleviate the alarm of the young soldiers. For Patrick, the memory symbolises the egalitarianism that existed in his unit and the strong bonds of mateship that form when people are faced with difficult situations.
Following his service, Patrick studied to be a teacher, becoming the first person in his family to attain university qualifications. He has an enduring admiration and respect for the Vietnamese people and their culture.