© Bob Cavill
C Company & Assault Pioneers 1966-67
My memories of the days I stood
beside 'the other man' are like an old jumbled disjointed
film, only parts are intact, but some small sections are as
intense with detail as on the days the images were burned
for ever into my memory. There comes a day in a soldier's
life when he may be forced to face the 'other man'. These
memories are with me still today and sometimes without
warning these faces can burst across the mind's eye — they
are the faces of the other man.
Down through the darkest pages of history, of man against
man, it has ever been so. Those who must move up feel the
pressure of the enemy's shield-wall, know in their soul that
some will die. But they believe there must be hope, that in
the Australian vernacular, it will be the 'other bloke' —
others will be the ones that fall. It is the mantra of the
warrior, thought but never said, for how could it be
otherwise, only the foolish go willingly to the absolute
certainty of death.
1966, Nui Thi Vai
A mountain steep. High above a
flat plain, in the blinking dappled light of its
verdant green canopied slopes hides a bloody
struggle among the lichen covered boulders vines and
rotten logs. The humid heavy air carries the
jack-hammer sound of 'The Gun', two and three round
bursts, each carry the potential of death ripping
the air at twenty six hundred feet per second. They
smash tiny particles of rain into a trail of vapoury
mist that connects the gunner to his target. The
hammer sound tears at the air like a madman ripping
sheets; it comes in waves, bouncing off the
mountain, echoes and repeats and in return the enemy
plays his part, and a sniper finds his mark ... it
is a symphony of war.
I want three men! over here NOW!
Form a stretcher party and get this man back down to
the pad at A Company's position."
"We can't get him out here! it’s about 300 metres
down, quickly now!" You!
scout and rotate with the men on the stretcher
watch yourself and take care making contact as you
approach their position! We will warn them ahead of
your ETA ―
So here he is — "the other man," lying on his back.
I kneel before we lift and stare into his ashen grey
face ... bluish lips and gaping mouth, I know this
man, his laugh, his voice ... why! I heard him speak
but only a few minutes ago ... that’s right' he said
Light rain drifts down, dripping off my bush hat,
running down his pale and familiar face it pools in
half closed eyes that stare into infinity. An
intense pity overwhelms me as we lift his arms onto
the canvas, then look up into the eyes of a medic
... and there ... in that instant of time, find the
He was indeed, one of the "other men." He was but
one that stood beside us and now, like all who have
served, and saw the loss of "The other man" we must
live on ... with the guilt of that unspoken mantra.
Though not in my section, Gordon
D'Antione was the forward scout of 2 Section,
Assault Pioneer Platoon and though he and myself
never shared a shell scrape, we often shared a beer
Gordon was a private and quiet sort of bloke, who
kept himself and his pre army life private. Once you
got to know him though, you soon found him to be in
the army parlance of the time, a "good bloke."
Honest, trustworthy, reliable and as is common with
many quite men, possessed of an immense courage.
This last and most important of human character
assets was probably his undoing for when Lt
MacAloney asked for a volunteer to accompany him on
what was obviously from the start a very dangerous
tactical movement ― to advance and disarm a
booby-trapped mine in front of a defended enemy
position which was preventing the platoon's advance,
there was suddenly a few ... silent seconds.
These silent seconds are something that the combat
infantry know only too well. This is the moment in
time where words ― if you can speak them, may have
very real consequences. These are the seconds that
define the essence of courage.
Every man there, was aware that from this same enemy
position in an action the day before, one man had
already been killed, (Corporal Norman J. Womal) and
one badly wounded (Captain Brian LeDan) by very
accurate sniper fire and it was obvious there were
mines and/or booby traps set in front of us. Gordon
D'Antione answered Lt MacAloney just loud enough in
those silent few seconds for many of the Assault
Pioneer Platoon soldiers to hear, saying, "I'll go
Gordon was killed in action less than 3 to 4 minutes
later ― being shot without warning by a sniper who
had managed to get behind him. The sniper himself,
being killed by the platoon in an exchange some
Gordon D'Antoine was an excellent scout, he was a
good soldier... and his voice alone in the silent
seconds, proved him the bravest man there.
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS |