A letter to Ray

Ray, old mate. Mate, I’m off to march with the boys tomorrow down Adelaide Street Brisbane. I’m taking my father for a walk as well – you remember Dad, you met him before we went to Vietnam. Well, Dad had served in the Navy during WW2 and died some years ago, but every Anzac Day I take him on the parade. Well, at least I wear his medals on my right breast and he’s sort of with me in spirit. Before the march I’ll get up at 3:30 and go to the Dawn Service at the local RSL. It get’s harder every year but until it’s as hard as landing at Gallipoli, and it never will be, I’ve got nothing to complain about. I go there to pay homage to all the lost souls of all our wars. Ray, I remember the day you died in that shitty country. You felt no pain mate, but we did. We cleared our way though to you. Alan was already dead but you were still alive, albeit unconscience. I stayed with you until the chopper came and watched you being loaded with a bad feeling in my heart. Later, back in Australia, I met your Father in 1972 at the City of Sydney RSL. I told him of your last moments, how you died game and how you didn’t suffer. Of course, that was no solace for the man – there is no solace for such a loss . He cried and I put my arm around his shoulder and we both cried for your lost youth and premature demise. He truely loved you and lived on for 20 years or more, missing you every day. Our detractors say we only glorify war on ANZAC Day. Well mate, maybe commemorating your life, death and sacrifice is glorifying war but I don’t think it is. Us guys from Recce Platoon try not to think of Vietnam too often but this weekend I had Flea up from Melbourne as a house guest for a couple of days, and of course, all the memories flood back. You remember Flea – he was my forward scout. I met Bull Mahoney a few years back. You remember he stood on a mine as well. He ended up losing both his legs and when he got home he spent years in hospitial followed by rehabilitation and then was told he was fit enough to work. He was too. He took on a newspaper delivery service. His wife drove and he sat in the back and threw the papers out. He said it was OK but a real bitch when turning corners. You see, without any legs he couldn’t brace himself and would roll off the seat if he didn’t watch it. The Department of Veterans affairs were right though, he could work. We just think he shouldn’t have to. Years later they gave him a pension. Ted Molloy turned up in Brisbane some years back. He was wounded with Bull and while lying there listening to the screaming of all those wounded men he started saying the rosary. It helped to settle every one down. You remember Ray, you were there that day. Well apparently Ted was fit enough to work as well. His legs were hardly recognizable as legs but he worked for years in the construction industry and told me that the pain was terrible but the Department of Veterans Affairs repeatedly rejected his application for pension. After several appearances at the Appeals Tribunal Ted’s counsel could see they weren’t making any headway against the beaurocrats, so in desperation told Ted to stand up and drop his trousers. He did so and the stunned silence from the members of the tribunal foreshadowed the approval of a pension. A picture is worth a thousand words and it wasn’t a nice picture. Maybe they looked into their souls and saw an even worse picture. Mate, you’d laugh to see us now, we’re all old men. You, of course are forever etched in our minds as young. Fit and dedicated to your mates – you were all we could ask for as a digger. Of course a lot of the country didn’t see it that way. You’ll be saddened to know that the press, the RSL of the day, the intelligensia, and even the Prime Minister, (a bloke called Whitlam) derided our service. Whitlam even had a commo as his deputy. A bloke called Jim Cairns, who as president of a USSR/Australia group even travelled to the USSR while they were sending arms, ammo and advisors to Vietnam to better kill us. He organised something called Moratorium Marches where uni students, wharfies, red raggers, and other ill informed people could gather in the thousands and spit on us. I met Pat Kelly last year down in Melbourne. I remember the last time I saw him he was lying down after a genade had taken him out. Blew me arse over head as well but Pat took all the shrapnell. That was the day Neil Richardson died and a few others were shot and shrapnelled. Well they are still getting shrapnel out of Pat. He lost his eye that day and later on he had to have a heart transplant but he’s still the happy and ever smiling Irishman he was when you knew him. Some things don’t change. Mate, we missed you for all these long years but rest assured we will think of you tomorrow and quietly raise a glass in your honour. While others still call us killers and question our service, the real Australians now line up on the footpaths and applaud our passing. They applaud our passing, we commemorate yours. Rest easy Mate. Ray ‘General’ Paton and Alan Talbot were killed in a mine incident near the town of Phouc Bu in Phouc Tuy Province South Vietnam on 1 Feb 1971. Wounded were the Platoon Sergeant, Dick Williams (killed the following year in a MVA), Neil ‘Shorty’ Godbold ( Shorty stood on the mine, lost a leg and then committed suicide some years later just before the 1987 Sydney Welcome Home March) and Phill Ryan. Phil is the only survivor from a very bad day and all of these guys were the last battle casualties suffered by 7RAR in Vietnam. The full story is here


  • Kev, beautifully written, and fine sentiments.

    To all veterans, all the best for Anzac Day. Honour our fallen comrades, thank your god for our survival, rejoice in our fellowship.

    All those long gone spirits will be marching with us tomorrow, forever part of the Regimental family.

    Lest We Forget.

  • I think of those who didn’t come back at the oddest of moments, perhaps spurred by a sound or smell. I remember them always.

    My good buddy, Joe Galloway [We Were Soldiers..] is in Vietnam this very moment for a remembrance of the 30 year anniversary of the fall.

  • Kev,
    Beautifully said…..
    Lest We Forget.

  • Speechless.
    Thanks Kev.

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  • Nice tribute Kev!

    My good friend Joe Galloway is in Vietnam this week remembering our buddies who didn’t come home after the country fell 30 year ago.

  • Thank you for a moving and wonderful tribute. I linked to it here.

  • I was saving this for April 30, rather than April 25, but having just read the letter, it’s an appropriate time…

    I have never served in the forces, or anything similar to it. I have a very limited idea of why people like you and Ray ended up in Vietnam, and while I have an intellectual appreciation of what you went through, I don’t believe it’s possible for me to understand it emotionally.
    In the past, this has made it it difficult for me to to properly thank you and other veterans, because, basically, I knew I didn’t know what I was talking about.
    I’m a father now, and I’m beginning to appreciate the difference between what me and my children have, and what could have been. While I still can’t emotionally understand what you went through, I feel better qualified to to thank you and your mates for what you have done for my family.

  • magoo. Thanks and know that we would do it again if called upon to do so.

  • Beautifully put, Kev. I had another fine day with the 2/14th remnants. Numbers are fading, though. You ever run into the battalion’s senior officer now, Stan Bisset? On the Sunshine Coast somewhere, I think. Has the distinction of being selected in the touring Wallabies side, only to have war stymie his chance of playing a Test.

  • Kev,

    I would like to second magoo’s sentiments; those are my feelings, too. Thank you my friend.

  • Hi Kev J. asked me to have a look at this,I found it very moving ,keep up the good work, Flea

  • Hi Kev, Thank You for sharing this with us who have no idea of what real soldiers have endured for their country and our freedom. God Bless you all. Lest we forget!

  • Hello Kev, me old mate, how come you have so much time to manage this amazing site. Have you retired already? It all went downhill when I was not there to look after you – didn’t it?! Seriously, I really enjoy reading your thoughts and musings. Hell, was it that long ago that we ‘were soldiers, once, and young’. We are returning to NZ from UK this year – and I promise I will come over to Oz and recover a few beers you must owe me – can’t think of a reason but there must be one so – be afraid – be very afraid! :-)