Howard Dillon (Australian Army), Army Chaplain

Running time
2 min 22 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Howard Dillon served in Vietnam as a Chaplain in the Australian Army, providing pastoral care to his fellow soldiers. He found himself confronted by the realities of war.


Over 70 men served as chaplains in the Australian Army during the Vietnam War. Howard Dillon arrived in 1969, eager and naive.

"Even chaplains didn't tell you what you were likely to confront, you just went there. So, it was quite a shock to be at the hospital and find that you were supposed to give the last rites to dead soldiers.

When you're young and invincible, you take on the world.

The medical team, even though they were working on the soldier, there was no one to actually be there for the person. So I found myself as being the kind of anchor person that was there reassuring the soldier. Sometimes I felt that you were kind of powerless.

I mean nurses are giving injections and people are taking pulses. And I wondered whether I was doing any good. And I talked to the CO about it and I said, 'Sometimes I feel we're just in the way.'

He rebuked me pretty strongly and said 'No, you're the one normal thing here. Everything else is abnormal. We're all flat out saving the digger's life, but you represent mother, father, brother "" the normal world. You do for him what a family would do.'

So you'd find yourself stroking his forehead, holding his hand, praying. Talking quietly in his ear, that's if he could hear. Sometimes with the mine explosions they were deaf. Sometimes they had things on their mind so it becomes a kind of confessional.

The young men that I trained went off and did all that was asked of them and then came back to be treated with disdain. I think a mortal blow to the whole of our generation, and I think that the kind of social problems that Vietnam vets now display I put largely at the door of those community leaders who, oh really, piddled on us from a great height."

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