Six One Charlie
In the western half of Phuouc Tuy Province in the old Republic of Vietnam lies a deserted town called Phuoc Buu. It had been a centre for the Viet Minh when they fought the French in the 40’s and 50’s and more than likely would have been noticed by Australian Army prisoners of war when they were forced to build airstrips near there in 1944 by the Japanese.
In February 1971 a patrol from Reconnaissance Platoon, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) visited whilst en-route to an ambush position 2 km southeast of Phuoc Buu on route 328. During the stopover one of us stood on a mine. The explosive, expanding at tens of thousands of feet per second, pushed shrapnel, dirt and stones into the bodies of Alan Talbot, Ray Patten, Dick Williams (the Platoon Sergeant), Phil Ryan and Neil (Shorty) Godbold. Life was over for Alan and Ray and would never be same for the others. Shorty lost his leg and more and from that day his life went on a downward spiral that ended with suicide thirteen years later. The explosion of the mine, most probably one of Australian origin, was an unmitigated disaster and the men wounded and killed on that day were the last casualties of 7RAR from the Vietnam War.
I am looking at a leg, it has been stripped of flesh and in some places I can see through the bones, sinews and flesh to the ground underneath. I can see the sinews and spurting arterial blood so very clearly. The arteries pulsating as they threaten to empty the bodies blood supply. I scan up towards the face knowing that I will see Shorty’s face but never do. I see the face of someone I’m worried about – a sick child, a recently widowed mate, another untimely dead veteran; but never Shorty’s face. I try to smother the dream and force myself to wake up. Sometimes the image is fleeting and disappears on gaining consciousness, other times it stays and the dread is terrible. I am hyperventilating and my heart is drumming and after I reason I’m not suffering a heart attack, I force myself to slow down. I get up quietly and go to the kitchen, make coffee, go outside and sit with the dog. She never demands any answers to the questions I can’t ask and licks my hand, comforting me in silence. I settle and find dawns approaching light comforting as well. I stay up and greet wife and kids with a ‘good morning’ lie and spend the rest of the day wishing I could go to sleep, I’m so tired but I sit up late again to make sure I’m exhausted when I go to bed.