Daryl Bristowe - RSL and a last mission
The RSL didn't want us. The Second World War veterans, not my father, nor my uncles. A lot of the RSLs, and that's why I never joined the RSL. Would you think about it? I came back late '71. I joined the RSL, Monbulk RSL, in '96. They didn't accept us. We weren't good enough. The army... the regular soldiers called us chocos, we called them regs. And when you look at the casualty lists in Vietnam, we lost troops, but we were always trying to prove to the regular troops. So our nasho blokes, probably went that extra yard to prove. And it was sad, but we did that.
But the thing that really turned me off Vietnam, and I can say this now, big time. In September, we were told the army was sending us out and we're thinking, "Well, hang on." 'Cause when I was in Vung Tau, the girls told me, "Did you know, you're leaving [for] Australia in October?", on the exact day. The army hadn't told us, but the bloody girls in the bars told us. So if they knew, the Vietcong knew.
Anyway, next thing we know we're going out one large exercise in September. And we're all thinking, "Well, hang on. We've all written home to say we're coming home. You know, the first or whatever, the first week in October. Why send us out the second last week going into the last week, looking for trouble?" I know we shouldn't say this, but that's what you think. "Why are you sending us out? We're going home." Anyway, they sent us out. With the Third Battalion, it was like rings, you know?
There's Nui Dat, the Third Battalion was there, the Fourth Battalion was further out. We couldn't get in contact with each other because people had been killed in the Third Battalion. If you want to meet up with somebody out there, you've got to ring up and say, "I'm coming out from the west." Anyway, but we didn't bump into them at that stage. But I witnessed a battle in the Fourth Battalion that went on for hours and hours. We were mortars, expecting... we thought they might've come back through our way so we were trying to fill up sandbags and fortify ourselves should they, the Vietcong, come back through us. And we wouldn't have lasted long if there'd been lots of them.
But all day, helicopter gunships. And you know, they had... the Americans had them. You could always tell... There were Hercules, there used to be C47s that had lots of guns out the side. But these were Hercules that had lots of guns out the side. And you could always tell because when they circled around, it was like a straight line of tracer, one in five was tracer so you can imagine how many rounds. This went on for ages. But when the helicopters went in, their's was a straight line.
But then the side gunners, with the twin M60s, and they zigzagged across the sky towards the target. And we watched this from probably lunchtime to maybe seven or eight o'clock at night. And I believe, don't quote me, but I believe four people were killed. And I'm thinking to myself, "Those four people probably wrote home and said we are coming home in November". And I was really critical of the government and especially the military. It wasn't until 1983, I bought the Australians at War history.
Here I am reading it, "The Australians went out looking for trouble. They were worrying about the Vietcong bringing mortars in within range of the field hospital at Nui Dat. Why in the hell didn't they tell us? When I was 10 years in the reserves, and it took a long time from 1971 to when I joined the reserves in 1989, and I spent two years as a volunteer photographer from '87 to '89. Why? And they always said, "We're doing this because of that, that, that," but they didn't think enough of us national servicemen to say, "We're going to go out because we're worrying about the Vietcong, now that they know that you're leaving, will bring their mortars in closer and take out the hospital." It was so easy.
And then from then on I thought, "You stupid buggers." If we had known that, and I'm sure the four people that had died, if they'd known that. It would have been... they would have felt better. Because in 1970, as Mum was concerned, we lost 1,034 on the roads in Victoria. And that's when they brought in safety belts, or just after, and we'd lost 520 or whatever. But I always remember one week in Vietnam, the Americans, because we used to listen to Radio America, they were that excited they only lost 129 in one week. It's their all-record low. And us soldiers are looking at each other thinking, "Bloody hell. They're bragging about losing 129. What were they losing the other weeks?"