5RAR Training Team
Once we were soldiers

 

 

australian infantryman's combat badge
awol... an adventure in vietnam

© Bill O'Mara
B Coy 2nd Tour
author: Bill O'Mara

Bruce Winner, Bill O'Mara and Murray BignallIn May 1969 I volunteered to be one of three guys from our platoon to join a MATT team (Military Advisory Training Team). It was the only time I ever volunteered for anything in the Army ... sometimes you win!

The three of us were housed in an ARVN (Army Republic Viet Nam) compound with our own wooden hut which was a hell of a lot better than the accommodation had by the ARVN soldiers.

The compound housed their families as well as chooks, ducks and pigs. They joined us for breakfast each morning and always brought along their rice wine. They mixed this with coke as a 'starter' for the day. What they didn't drink was poured into the fuel tanks of their bikes ... so pretty powerful stuff.

Training the localsWe taught them to strip weapons whilst blindfolded and took them on ambush  drills every couple of nights. The woman in the compound who washed my Jungle greens in exchange for rations for her kids, would tell me to be careful, as some of the blokes we took out on drill were sympathetic to the VC. This same woman assured me that the compound would never be mortared. Within the compound was a makeshift device that had phosphorous in tin cans, and could be spun in a circular motion to identify the location of the compound. According to this woman, it was protection from being mortared. She also claimed to have a son in the ARVN and another with the NVA up North. Two bob each way, who knows ... nothing would have surprised me it was a crazy war.

The makeshift deviceOne of us (Aussies), was always on sentry of a night on these ambush drills. I was sure that at any sign of rain they would have headed back to the compound. They loved to play cards and I recall a guy chasing a woman around the compound, blasting away with his M16 over a gambling dispute; kids and chooks running all over the place! The kids were a delight and we shared our rations and played games with them.

Bill O'Mara playing with the village kidsAfter a week or so, one of the other guys and myself decided to give ourselves a few days unofficial leave. We took a couple of cartons of Aussie beer and I carried enough ammo for the two M16s. We 'requested' a lift to a location at the seaside 8 -10 kilometres away that the ARVN had told us about. We paid the guy a few bucks for the ride and ended up with some Yanks housed in a French Villa. (That's a picture of it below). Three days of living the high life; for us the war had stopped. When our money ran out the Yanks drove us back to the compound in their Jeep.


The rench Villa

In telling this yarn to our CO, Lt. Col 'Genghis' Khan a couple of years ago, he said, "I often wondered what some of you blokes got up to."

 

ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS | BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE