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Dear Mom and Dad

Article supplied By Greg Tommasi

Terry Tommasi3787309 Terence Mathew Tommasi was part of the first national service intake and served with 5RAR during its first tour as a forward scout. Upon his return to Australia, Vietnam remained with him; flashbacks, depression, not being able to sleep without alcohol or pills or both ... he never married. Post 1993 Terry was dealt another cruel blow; a stroke that left him partially paralysed and confined to a wheel chair. Terry lived out the rest of his life in a nursing home. Sadly Terry passed away in March 2005. At the funeral it was standing room only. Along with his family, his 5RAR mates paid their last respects.  In August 1993 Terry was one of three soldiers featured in an article titled 'Dear Mum and Dad' in the Melbourne Age newspaper.  

In late April of the same year, (1966) Terry Tommasi boarded HMAS Sydney. He was in the first group of Australian conscripts to go to Vietnam and apart from his size, (1.61 metres) he was fairly typical. He turned 21 there. To begin with, he was excited, even gung-ho; he was certainly naive. But Terry lost his innocence there. Like the thousands of apparently lucky ones who came home unharmed. Terry was deeply hurt.

In the beginning, his letters home were full of detail and, mostly, reassuring. On board ship he was positively happy: "Ship life is nothing but relaxation ... there are bodies everywhere soaking up the sun and cigarettes cost ten cents a packet."

The first two weeks in the war zone were spent in building up the defence of the Vung Tau Peninsula between swims in the surf and trips into town.

"Vung Tau ... is completely unbelievable, St Kilda and Kings Cross are monasteries compared to this place believe me."

Inevitably though, the war began to intervene. "I spent my (21st) birthday doing field punishment for losing my I.D. card." he told a friend on 3 June. "I filled up sandbags all day. In the night, I packed my gear, cleaned my rifle and smoked numerous cigarettes and had a few drinks ― not too many. We had received the news that we were moving out the next day and everyone was as nervous as hell."

Terry taking a swig from his water bottle

He reserved the action mainly for his brothers and friends, but he stopped giving details even to them when it became too real. "Our own mob dropped mortars within 25 yards of us and, boy, did I eat dirt" he wrote early in the tour. "It took me half an hour to dig myself out. Luckily nobody was hurt ... on the second day out, another Cong sniper took a few pot shots at us. I was forward scout and bullets were flying all around me. Our machinegun opened up and tracer was spewing all over the place about three foot over my head. I couldn't stop shaking for hours after."

He was writing during a 24-hour rest. "It's magic. First shower I've had in nearly two weeks ― clean greens, mail, the lot." The previous 12 days had been murder. "We were sopping wet all the time ― got, at the most, five hours sleep per day ― our clothes were covered in mud and were rotten even while we were wearing them. We marched all over the place chasing Charlie's mob and as far as we can tell we've made him bug out of the area. Our score so far is 11 confirmed kills and 10 wounded for the loss of one man killed on our side."

In June, Terry was chosen to do a language course and, by July, he had moved to the southern resort town of Vung Tau. He wrote home on the 22 June: "The course has come just in time, too ― this place is starting to drive me nuts." While he was away, a close mate was killed then Long Tan happened. He did not write home about either.

When Terry returned to his company in September, the operations were relentless. By 1967, he was counting down the days before his return home. On 17 February, he mentioned the death of his company commander and two other officers but he was vague, adding the postscript: "No worries I'll be home before you know it. Only 72 days to go now and I'm on my way." What he did not say was that he saw, from 70 metres away, three men die in a booby trap mine explosion. A week later, he saw seven mates killed in an armoured personnel carrier.

On the 11 April, he wrote to his brother Greg: "Tell them not to worry too much about what they read in the newspapers ... we become non-operational on 26 April, so there isn't very much they can give us to do in between time. Still I'm keeping my fingers crossed ... P.S. Get Wayne's board waxed up for me, will you?"

When Terry was conscripted, he was not unhappy about it. "I wanted to go." he remembers. "I thought it was an adventure. The job I was doing was boring." But a week after he came home, his brother was called up and.... "I couldn't break his legs in time."

Terry's brother Greg also served in Vietnam 1970-71. Terry would say: "Greg's letters home were a bit like the ones I wrote. I used to read them and think: "What a load of shit. What is really happening?" You had to try to read between the lines."

Terry was a forward scout and because of his small size, was often sent first into enemy tunnel systems. Twenty seven years later, he still haunts the tunnels at night, never sleeping without alcohol or pills or both. He admits he has been in "real strife with alcohol" over the years and the battle rages on. He lives with his sister's family in an outer suburb of Melbourne, works hard in a factory job and has never married.

Sadly Terry later suffered a severe stroke and was placed in a nursing home. He died on the 23rd March 2005 aged 59 years.

Terry Tommasi's funeral was held in the Tobin Brothers Funeral Chapel on Thursday 25th March 2005. He served as a forward scout and was held in high regard not only by the members of his platoon but also his company. The chapel was standing room only with over 60 veterans attending which was a testament to his popularity within the veteran community. A Guard of Honour was formed as the hearse drew away and he was given three rousing cheers.