Service Number: 1734648
Enlisted: 22 April 1969
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 9th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR)
Born: Brisbane, Queensland, 27 August 1947
Home Town: Not yet discovered
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Not yet discovered
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Vietnam War Service

22 Apr 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734648
22 Apr 1969: Enlisted Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734648, 1 Australian Reinforcement Unit
17 Jul 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734648, 9th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR)
17 Jul 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734648

Walker's Wounding: July19 1969

Extract from 'The War Within' (Tate, Murdoch Books 2008)

.....It was real tough going, even though we were following a trail about a metre wide. It was littered with boulders, large tree roots and fallen logs. The jungle had been smashed by Yank bombing runs at some point, and shattered trees lay skewiff, their stumps riddled with bullet holes.
When the storm erupted, the already muddy track became a quagmire. But we climbed it still, higher and higher, ever so slowly, into that dark shadowy saddle between the mountains, grabbing handfuls of mud and tree roots, scrambling and rolling, slipping and sliding.
The thrill of the chase and the blood lust, along with the blood trails we’d been following, had long gone, and we were all dog tired and mostly switched off. We were so concentrated on just pulling our way uphill that no one saw the signs of Viet Cong. That was just poor soldiering, no doubt about that, because the Viet Cong presence was there for all to see, all the bloody time, staring us in the face—the small tree branches, tied in knots, the fire-lanes cleared through the jungle wall.
If we’d only had eyes.
But the tiredness and the physical effort of jungle-bashing in such terrain dulled the senses. We were all to blame in some way, I guess.
Instead of concentrating on the surrounds, we were cursing the rain and the mud, and everything else, and there was a lot of talk above the thunder and the pelting rain, which was unnerving in itself. But missing those signs—that was the worst thing. It wouldn’t have happened in the 4th Battalion. Or under Jim Riddle, that’s for sure.
I’m sure Cpl Ochiltree noticed them too. But the order had been to keep moving forward, regardless.
Suddenly, we all stopped. There was no talk then. The thumbs-down signal had come down the line. Whispered messages. Men sliding backwards and forwards through the mud to the next man in line. Noises had been heard ahead. Banging sounds. Metal on metal. Sounds that didn’t belong in the jungle.
We froze. The heart of every man steeled itself, then beat a little faster. The rush of adrenaline pulsed through our veins. Knuckles turned white, eyes grew and lit up.
Every muscle in every part of my body tightened, my senses strained. I made sure the magazine on my rifle was protecting my balls. I was ready to react in a split second—to run, to go to ground, to dive for cover. Whatever.
I looked behind me. Salmon and Walker had the M60 aimed into the jungle. They were lying side by side with the stock at Salmon’s shoulder. Walker had taken up the number-two role on the gun, and he chose to take a piss there and then. But he was pissing uphill, so it was rolling back on him. It didn’t much matter at that point, what with the rain beating down on us like it was. Ordinarily, we would’ve had a laugh about it.
The sergeant came sliding down in a surge of mud, like a walrus on heat, with a message to the section commanders.
‘What’s Lt Osborn doing?’ Salmon asked.
‘He’s sent Ochiltree ahead to suss out the area. Pass it down the line.’ Then he was back off again, clawing his way up the incline.
‘Fuckwits! All of them!’ Salmon muttered. ‘Blind Freddy can see we’re walking into an ambush.’
He and I exchanged glances. We already knew what the sergeant thought of it, because he had a soldier’s brain, and we shook our heads at the insanity of it.
I swore under my breath, because that little voice inside me told me they were up there all right, those stinking yellow bastards, lurking under the ground, watching and waiting for us. Ready to take us out.
Minutes passed.
I wondered if it was too late to have a crap, and it was, because we got the signal to move on again almost straightaway, and I was annoyed at myself for not taking the opportunity earlier. There was nothing worse than being full of shit when a shit fight started.
Then the message came down—we were still moving forward, despite the banging sounds, and even though a bloody monstrous storm was crackling overhead, and the conditions were atrocious.
Only seconds later, it was as if the whole universe exploded, and my world changed forever.
Lightning and thunder crashed round my ears, and at the same time the enemy machine guns opened up. Their fire was so ferocious, so cacophonous, the noise of one all but blotted out that of the other.
The foliage was being shredded. The rain lashed us like a flailing cat o’ nine tails as if we were being punished for past sins. Instinctively, we flung ourselves down into the jungle undergrowth. For a minute or two, there was nothing to do but struggle to get our packs off, and make sure everything else was the right way round, and listen until someone started working out what was going on up front.
It was obvious that the forward section was wearing the brunt of it, because I was the first bloke in the second section, and all I was copping was the noise, and the zinging of bullets through the canopy overhead.
We were still about ten metres down the incline. Platoon headquarters had almost breasted it when the enemy guns had opened up, but Lt Osborne and his entourage made sure they slipped back down the hill real quick, once the firing started.
I guess that was his job.
‘Second section, move up! Get your arses up here!’ yelled Osborne, trying to be heard above the thunder and the machine-gun fire ahead. ‘And get that fuckin’ gun up here with youse. Get some covering fire going! We’ve lost men up ahead!’
He was right up in the sergeant’s face, and the sergeant was struggling not to belt him, you could tell.
Me and Salmon and Walker could only guess at what was being said, but started pulling our way up the last part of the incline, past both the sergeant and Lt Osborne. When we got to the lieutenant, he was as white as a ghost. He was at a crossroads, too, I thought.
‘I want you blokes up over that rise right now. We’re getting the shit shot out of us up there!’ he barked. ‘Get some covering fire happening, now!’
‘You coming up there with us?’ Salmon asked him as he struggled up the incline, trying to keep the barrel of his M60 out of the mud. The sarcasm was pronounced, even in that din.
‘Just get up there, soldier!’ Lt Osborn screamed back at him.
‘I didn’t fuckin’ think you would,’ said Salmon, with all the derision he could muster. ‘You bastards look after yourselves back here.’
The lieutenant’s face flushed with rage at Salmon’s insolence. Shit, I thought, you’re in for it if we get out of this.
The three of us moved up the last few feet of that incline, keeping as low to the ground as we could. The last time I looked back, no one was following us. Not the ‘louie’, not the sergeant. No one.
When we got up the last part of the incline, I was still in front of Salmon and Walker, and I could hear and almost feel the bullets pouring overhead, and it was no small matter knowing I was going to have to stand and run from that point, without really knowing what was waiting for me.
What I did know was that we’d run into a fierce, determined outfit set to inflict as much pain as it could. And I knew we were in deep shit, because as soon as I poked my head over that rise, I could see the last couple of men in Ochiltree’s section, up ahead, wounded and strewn around that muddy track, and there seemed to be precious little return fire coming from any of the men further afield.
That meant that we’d be running straight into the machine-gun fire coming from the bunkers. The geography precluded any flanking movement.
We opened our ammunition pouches. Salmon clicked another belt of ammunition onto the M60, and we were ready to go.
Then in those seconds, with the terrible noise all around—the sounds of men screaming in pain up ahead, the barking orders coming from behind, the clapping sound of thunder and lightning flashing across that small patch of jungle, and the monsoon lashing us—it was as if so many of my questions were suddenly answered for me. My mind flashed back to the previous bunker assaults with the 4th Battalion, and all the previous contacts and ambushes I’d been involved in, and how I’d survived them against the odds, even come out unscathed. That feeling of invincibility came back again, and clothed me in it.
It was a moment of clarity.
I realised that some of us were destined not to get shot, no matter how hairy the situation became. And that I was one of them, one of the select few who’d walk away from that place without a scratch.
I’d finally worked it out. I was a superman in greens. Unstoppable.
I sucked in a deep breath as Walker and Salmon joined me. I unhooked my grenade pouch, and took one grenade from the top—the pineapple grenade that ‘The Bear’ Winchester had given me when the 4th Battalion went home. I felt its strength surge through me. If I’m, going to die, I thought, let it be with that grenade in my hand. Hunched under that last step of the rise, I tore off the tape, and pulled the pin.
‘Let’s go!’ I yelled over that noise, and up we got up as one, and ran into the mouth of that firestorm.

When the ambush had been sprung, the entire first section of men—Cpl Andy Ochiltree's section—were cut down immediately. Pte Ray Kermode, who'd swapped the scouting role with Ochiltree only minutes earlier, had worn rounds to the upper body. Half his shoulder was blown away.
‘Contact front!’ Ochiltree screamed, and threw himself to the ground. With enemy machine-gun fire coming from all sides, he dragged his backpack off, pushing it in front of him for some protection and began to return fire.
Behind him, the rest of his section disintegrated.
Looking behind him, he saw Pte Kermode hanging Jesus-like in the bamboo. Ochiltree dragged himself back and across to Kermode, and tried disentangling him. He couldn't. Kermode was caught by his backpack. Ripping a field dressing from his armalite, he tried to apply it to Kermode's wound, but the damage was too great. There was no covering it. He was bleeding profusely.
‘I'm done for,’ was all Kermode said. ‘Leave me. Look after yourself mate.’
Ochiltree grabbed some of Kermode's ammunition, and went forward again, returning fire at the closest bunker. But seconds later, his armalite was shot from his hands. The bullet ricochets into his arm.
Bloodied, he crawls back to the stricken Pte Kermode, and reached up to help him again.
‘Leave me,’ Kermode said again. ‘I'm finished.’
Then, he was. One more Viet Cong bullet struck him. Thus, Pte Ray Kermode died. And such a fine man too. Such a waste. Was it only the day earlier that he'd chirpily offered to carry some of my gear, despite carrying a full load himself?
Cpl Ochiltree pulls himself together. He can't dwell on the sight, or the loss of a mate—there are others in his section also wounded. He can hear screams all around, and surveys his section. There wasn't a lot happening. His machine-gunner, Pte Battley has leg wounds, and his M60 lays quiet, broken in the mud; there was Pte Nixon-Smith, his head opened like a dropped watermelon, blinded, squirming in the mud, trying to ascertain his position.
And others, also wounded, strewn along the track behind him, trying to find some protection, some respite.
Where the fuck's our support? he wondered.

It’s all a blur, now, how it all went down. But I still retain fragments of the whole. They’re indelibly imprinted.
I’ll carry them with me to the end, I guess.
Of laying in the mud on my back with my trousers around my knees, and a foot-long sausage of minced bone and meat and muscle hanging from a hole in my hip as big as the palm of a man’s hand. A bullet has smashed my hip joint, and the open wound is steaming, cauterised in the cold of the rain.
Around me, the world is exploding with machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Shrapnel scythes through the air and the jungle foliage; there are men screaming out for this and that. My armalite is lost.
The pain is excruciating. The joint is shattered. I brush the sausage of meat away, and the wound overflows with a mixture of rain and blood.
Only minutes earlier, I’d run forward when the ambush had opened up, still thinking I was invincible. I wasn’t. It was the last time I would ever run like a normal man again.
There’d been one short burst from my armalite at nothing in particular; and one grenade thrown, wildly in the general direction of bunkers out to the left. It was the pineapple grenade. It was the last thing I would ever do in the war.
Next I know, I turn behind me just in time to see Pte Walker wear a bullet to the chest, then his fingers turn to flame as a belt of M60 rounds ignite in his hands. Pte Salmon is heading out to the flank, and I go to follow him, realizing that he’ll need a number two on the gun.
I start to run, and then dive towards some cover when the bullet hits me with such impact, like a Mack truck, sending me cart-wheeling through the jungle like a Catherine Wheel spun off a fence post.
The thought flashed into my mind. It was immediate—this was a ‘homer’. I’d be getting out of the war alive—if I survived the night. Such a pleasant thought. Almost euphoric.
It didn’t last long, though.
When the pain finally made it to my brain, I couldn’t shut it off. It was such a terrible, terrible pain that it took me a few minutes to even make some sense of it. It was so severe, I lay there, grasping at my head, trying to see how much of it was left, thinking it had been blown off, before the pain actually localised in my hip.
I threw my webbing from me. The bullet had gone clean through the grenade pouch without setting off the other grenades, most likely right where Winchester’s pineapple grenade had been sitting only seconds before. I was astonished by my good fortune.
Fragments, I thought. Fragments of inches. That’s what it boiled down to. Fragments of time and space. By such small measures we live our lives.
I pulled my trousers down to my thighs in the mud, just as a grenade exploded harmlessly off to my right and another one exploded further down the hill. The earth shuddered beneath me, and I bounced with it. Debris showered me.
The battle raged around me, but I was not part of it. I was in a world of my own.
‘Ammo! Get some fucking ammo up here!’ Greg Salmon was screaming, in between short bursts, looking at Walker. He was standing behind a skinny tree, every now and then letting loose a few rounds of what ammo he had left at the closest of the bunkers.
‘What do you fuckin’ expect from me?’ Walker screamed back at him from the mud, waving his bloodied hands in the air. ‘No fuckin’ fingers! No fuckin’ fingers!’
Salmon wasn’t getting any assistance from me, either. I could hardly move a muscle. He was on his own, like it or not, with only him and that machine gun standing between us and the lights out, altogether.
I wondered if Salmon would was as good as he thought.
But it was of peripheral interest. The wound was the only thing that concerned me. I brushed the sausage of meat and bone fragments away from me, off into the mud and could see my hip bone then, inside the hole, all jagged and shattered. Without knowing why, I slapped a handful of the mud over the hole like it was the right thing to do, or like I wanted to hide it.
Exposed in the mud like I was, I realised I was in dire straits. Lying there, out in the open, I was still a target for the enemy machine-gunners who were pouring fire at me, but must have landed in a slight depression in the ground because the bullets zinged over my head, chewing away at the foliage, showering me with debris.
‘Davo! Davo!’ I called out.
Pte Mick Davidson was another rifleman in the platoon—one of the few men I’d gotten to know at all. We shared the same tent back at the base. I’d only known him for a short time, but he was an impressive sort of man. He was also a stretcher-bearer, and should’ve been on his way up, after us, when the ambush was sprung. I called out to him because I knew, of all the others in that platoon, he’d come and get me. He wasn’t one to let a fellow soldier down, and I knew he’d come for me.
Surely he’ll come for me.
But he wasn’t coming. Wasn’t any sign of him. There was no one coming. We were all alone. The feeling of desertion was palpable. I could feel my heart thudding inside my chest, echoing the thudding of the machine guns all round.
In that moment, I realised that I was going to die in that place, on that lonely jungle hillside. It hit me like a sledgehammer.
‘You gutless bastards!’ I cried out. ‘You weak, gutless bastards!’
But the show was over, mostly, and my mind was closing down as shock started to take over.
Around me, I felt the ground tremble beneath the crunch of artillery rounds beginning to fall around us, knew our boys back at the Dat were hooking in on our behalf as best they could from afar, and all the while the rain pelted down on my eyelids, drumming me into unconsciousness, even though I knew I had to stay awake in case the bastards came charging down at us from their bunkers.
But I couldn’t help myself. Try as I might to stay with it, to be ready for whatever was to come, there came a point when I let it all pass over me. I felt myself shutting my eyes and my mind to the whole fucking lot of it.
I was going into shock. And only Pte Salmon stood between them and us......

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