Alastair Bridges - First impressions of Vietnam
Department of Veterans' Affairs
My first flight or one of my first one was as a flight co-pilot and I was for a couple of months at least. I have a very nasty vision which I've talked about before of a pile of dead burnt bodies. Vietnamese. VC. They'd been caught in their tunnels by the Australians and the other part of the vision is the Australian troops just wandering around smoking cigarettes, chatting to one another as if it was perfectly normal and they were, I can't remember which regiment it was, they were about to come home so they were really experienced.
They were used to that sort of thing. The other people in the helicopter crew, they were also older experienced people about to go home just chatting away, getting out and talking to the troops as if this was the normal thing and I can remember sitting there looking at the pilot thinking "There's a pile of bodies. God, this isn't right." Yeah, that was my first experience that really does come back to me.
Initially I seem to recall the first couple of months, at least, were fairly quiet. Not a great deal really happened. We were doing standard sort of stuff, troop lifts. We never had nearly enough helicopters. We always had to call on the Americans to help as well. So we were doing troop lifts, resupplying troops in the field, a few other things like taking the commander around to visit people and that sort of thing.
It was pretty gentle sort of stuff but then around the time I got my captaincy we seemed to enter into a period of really tough things happening, like putting the SAS in and the next thing you get you've got them screaming on the radio "Come and get us out". You'd sit there on the paddy and look at a machine gun firing at you and why it didn't hit you, I don't know.
Medical evacuations. I found them by far the most satisfying things to do although unfortunately a lot of them didn't end up well. You know, winching people out of the jungle and taking them to hospital. On one occasion one of the soldiers about to go home wanted us all to go and see him and say thank you. That was the most satisfying thing.