REMEMBER - 217239 JOHN R. STEAD
- 16 JAN 67.
Discharged - 15 JAN 73.
(Indep) Recce Flt, SVN from June 1970 until March 1971.
Flying out of Sydney in a Qantas 707 (and I ended up working for them),
with stopovers in Darwin (hot) and Singapore (hotter) and finally into
Saigon (bloody hot). We were crammed into a yank C123, on the floor with
a cargo strap over us for safety. After visiting several yank bases on
the way we were finally at Nui Dat. - What had I gotten myself into?
Settling into my tent with 'Doc' Cairns and Jim 'Hendo' Henderson and
moving later on into the 'Studio' with Pete Eshman and crew. How I hated
our 'pet' mongoose that used to race around the sand bags and up under
our tent fly of a night and kept us awake - it was a necessary evil, one
we didn't want to get rid of. I'll bet John Crawford wishes he had one
the night he came back from the boozer, turned his light on and saw the
cobra in the middle of his tent.
Showering - when we first arrived ‘in country', everyone ran out of
water half-way through a shower and had to run outside and fill up the
bucket. After a couple of times you got wise to the art of showering out
of a canvas bucket and nearly always left some water in the shower for
the next guy. But you were always careful when you dropped the soap.
The nightly movies - the brown box from Australia and the green box from
America. The ‘good' parts where we stopped the projector and re-wound
it and played it again and again. In the ‘Dry' season we were outside
under the stars and in the 'Wet' season we were in the old hangar. We
always had our ‘Eskys' by our side, ammo cases lined with foam.
Our Boozer - cans classified by their colour - 'Bluies' (Flag Ale),
'Greenies' (VB), ‘Yellow' (XXXX) and ‘Reds' (D.A.) and of course Bud
and Schlitz, if you were desperate, or 'goffers'. Rookie our bar man,
and all the ring pulls from the cans around the walls like a chain. I
wondered for ages why my fingers always had small cuts on them, then I
realized why, it was from bending the ring-pulls to either add them to
the chain or break off the tails so we could flick them between our
Our toilet - when ever anyone finished, everyone would rise slightly
before the lid was shut. Remember the feeling if you didn't and someone
slammed the lid. Dropping smoke grenades in the toilets was a regular
occurrence to clear the flies and mossies and how no-one told a certain
officer that our ‘blowfly' had put waste fuel and oil in for a change
and when he dropped in a smoke grenade in - woosh, instant hair and
eyebrow removal - a good tan too.
Aircraft after-flights - removing the rockets and pods. Everyone under
the left wing and the pod on the right side falls. A certain pilot
offering to help, so we don't make a mistake and again the wrong pod
falling. Where did that carton of beer come from? Another pilot
remarking to one of his fellow pilots who had just been shot at,
"that no-one shoots at him" and finding a bullet hole in his
aileron on the after flight.
Our shows - both at the ‘Dust Bowl' and in the hangar. We took our
chairs over to the dust bowl the night before so as to get the best
positions for the show the following day. Our show in the hangar with
the knife thrower who had been in the Sergeant’s Mess most of the
afternoon - his aim was a little off.
Dislocating my shoulder - three times, the most vivid was while I was
playing footy in Vung Tau. I will never forget the trip to the hospital
with one of our officers driving the jeep, the traffic jam and driving
over the gutters to get around it (the pain). Then being picked up in
our MK5 for the trip back to Nui Dat, still groggy from the anaesthetic.
We were running late, it was almost curfew, we just made it back in
time, and I had no pain on the trip back.
My 21st Birthday - Captain Millar presented me with a 21st Key, made by
a couple of guys in the unit (I still have it and treasure it). The
party afterwards in ‘god' only knows whose tent. Staggering outside to
‘water a rubber tree' and wondering why the sky was in front of me, I
was on my back. When I woke in the morning, covered in mud, I wondered
who and how I was undressed. I had a hard time trying to exchange my
‘Stand Too' - when you first get in country, your first ‘stand too'
at night, you grab your rifle, and race to the bunkers, but no-one went
in unless within the last couple of days someone had dropped a 'smokie'
in to chase out the snakes. Then when we had the big bunker built near
the boozer, it wasn't quite complete, and it was the wet season, so
everyone sat around outside and on top laughing and joking - until the
CO appeared out of the darkness. What a crush as we all tried to fit
down through the entrance. When the all clear came, we couldn't get out
because it was too wet and slippery; we had to be virtually pulled out.
All the little things, the morning malaria parades, TULS, fetching water
with the HIAB, the soulies, the gecko's, chicken man riding guard on the
laundry trips to Baria. The leaflet drops, the flare drops, the voice
missions. Our `HOME' calendars, being an 'FNG', clanging, AFR, AFVN with
Millie ("Hi, YOU ALL").
memories will never fade, nor will the bonds and friendships formed
during my tour with 161. We shared something special during that time,
and that is why our reunions are so special. Just seeing all these faces
again brings memories flooding back. I will never forget, and while I'm
able, I will always attend.
Calder | Tom
Jobling | Peter
Nolan | Peter
Ginman | Eddie