Friday, April 26, 2013

19: Remember When...

While veterans remember ALL the warriors from ALL wars, I get the impression at Anzac Day Dawn Parades that many youthful speakers from local schools think Anzac Day is ONLY about Gallipoli.
True, Winston Churchill's Turkish debacle did serve as the starting point for the ANZAC spirit, but it is by far not the sole focus of remembrance on Anzac Day...
One war that's almost bypassed at many a service is Vietnam. Thinking about that campaign - in which we were unnecessarily embroiled through a nebulous tie to our Yank 'friends' - I sought out that classic Aussie song Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green) by Redgum...
This 1983 song is a first-person account of a typical Aussie grunt's (infantryman's) experience in Vietnam, from his training to first-hand combat, and ultimately his return home disillusioned, psychologically scarred and suffering after-effects of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. It calls a spade a spade, and the lyrics are pretty powerful: no 'Glorious Dead' here, this is "...mud and blood and tears..."
Royalties for the song go to the Vietnam Veterans Assn of Australia, and it's in the Australasian Performing Right Association's Top 30 Australian Songs of all time.

Down-Under Translations: For non-Antipodeans, the song lyrics include words, terms and place names particular to Australia and Vietnam...
ANZAC: Australian and NZ soldiers who fought in the world wars (originally the Australian and NZ Army Corps).
Canungra: jungle warfare training centre in Gold Coast hinterland, Queensland.
Channel Seven: Australian television network.
Chinook: twinbladed troop-carrying military helicopter.
Contact!: military term indicating contact with the enemy. Will also contain direction of contact, either 'contact left', 'contact right', 'contact front' or 'contact rear'.
Dust-off: casualty evacuation by helicopter.
Greens: Jungle Green Working Dress (or JGs), field uniform worn by the Oz Army 1960s-1989.
Grand Hotel: a hotel in Vung Tau, converted for Army use.
Light green: parts on a map indicating supposedly more dangerous areas for soldiers to patrol, as there was little dense foliage and cover and thus more likely to be mined.
Nui Dat: S.Vietnam village, main base of 1 Aust.Task Force 1965-1972.
Puckapunyal: former Army enlisted soldier recruit training centre, Victoria.
Shoalwater: military exercise area, Queensland.
Sixth Battalion: (aka 6RAR) Oz army battalion, whose D Company had been involved in the infamous Battle of Long Tan three years earlier.
Slouch hat: Oz army parade head-dress.
SLR: L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle, standard 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle issued to Oz grunts during Vietnam... and a bloody good rifle it was!
Tinnies: cans of beer.
Townsville: Queensland city, home of Aust.Army's 3rd Brigade & RAAF Base Townsville. Also at the time, embarkation point for troops shipping to Vietnam from all around Australia, because it was the biggest port in N.Australia.
VB: Victoria Bitter beer.
Vũng Tàu: S.Vietnam coastal city, both the main Oz logistic base and a rest area for troops based at Nui Dat.

Incidentally, radio operator Private Frank Hunt (the partial inspiration for the song) did not step on an M21 mine on 21 July 1969 (the day of the Moon landing - "the day that Mankind kicked the Moon")) at Hoi My, S.Vietnam, but he was so seriously injured by the blast that he was repatriated to Oz...

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