Born in Carlton, New South Wales, in 1931, Les Powell had been working as an assembler for the Ford Motor Company before he joined the Australian Army.
Les 'upped' his age to avoid having to seek his parents' permission to enlist. He was feeling unsettled, saw an ad for K Force and decided it was something he wanted to do.
Les served in Korea with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), between August 1952 and June 1953, during a static phase of the war.
As a signalman, Les was responsible for the maintenance of telephone lines that were broken by mortar fire on a daily basis. He spent much of his time operating the radio and field telephone switch, which included 10 lines. He often carried a radio on night patrols into no-man's-land.
Les discharged from the army on 27 July 1953, the day the armistice came into effect. He worked as a storeman in Sydney. He later returned to the defence force, enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in January 1954 as an aircrew recruit and qualifying as an observer.
Les served in the Vietnam War in Detachment, 725 Squadron RAN (Wessex Anti-Submarine helicopters) aboard HMAS Sydney. He also served as the Assistant Defence Attaché in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).