By Casey Neill
A return trip made an ex-soldier realise the beauty of Vietnam…
“There’s nothing like being in a war zone to make mates.”
Graeme Kirk will catch up with the mates he made while serving his country in Vietnam and Malaya on Anzac Day, Tuesday 25 April.
He’ll attend the Melbourne march for the first time since 2002 and “catch up with some blokes I haven’t seen for years”.
“Anzac Day to me is a day of remembrance, remembering mates that are no longer with us,” he said.
“In a war zone, each man looks after each other’s back.
“From that, mateship formed.”
Mr Kirk was the guest speaker at the Noble Park RSL Anzac Day service on Sunday 23 April.
“Being in the service teaches you self-discipline, honesty and how to look after other people, which in today’s society is something that is sadly lacking,” he said.
Family tradition led Mr Kirk to become a cadet with the 2 Medium Regiment at age 15 and at 19 to “sign on the dotted line permanently”.
“My maternal grandfather was killed at the Somme and my paternal grandfather’s younger brother was killed at point Helles, Gallipoli,” he said.
“My father and his two brothers were in the army during the Second World War.
“The youngest brother became a Japanese prisoner of war. One served in the desert and my father served in the jungles.”
Mr Kirk served in Vung Tau as military policeman.
“Our job was to maintain order and discipline,” he said.
“Our night time duties were mainly cruising around and picking up Australian diggers who were in red areas, areas that were controlled by the VC (Viet Cong), which put them in extreme danger.
“Order and discipline sort of went by the wayside.
“We were more interested in their welfare.
“Nui Dat was a whole new ballgame.”
They’d cruise around Phuoc Tuy province in a Land Rover with an M60 machine gun mounted on the rear.
“We wondered why we were doing it because there was certainly no AWOL or drunk soldiers out in the bush,” he said.
“I guess we were there as bait, really, to see if we could draw the VC out.
“It wasn’t really until we got back to Australia that you thought about it.”
Mr Kirk said that in Nui Dat at night “you had one eye open waiting for the rockets to come in and the other eye was open when the artillery started”.
“When the artillery started you knew that someone was in trouble,” he said.
During the daytime, “you were cautious, very cautious”.
“That lady walking down the street there could be carrying a hand grenade,” he said.
“That kid over there could be running ammunition.
“You never got to know the public, you never got to know the people of Vietnam.”
He returned to the country with platoon mates in 2001.
“To my amazement I found the people just so friendly towards Australians and we toured the country, we saw the countryside for what it was,” he said.
He moved to Vietnam and met his wife Trang, whom he brought to Australia in 2008.
Mr Kirk said he also had good times during his service in Vietnam.
“We had a pet monkey. Grogan was his name,” he said.
“And we had a bomb dog that had seen and heard too many bombs go off.
“Saturday nights we had a barbecue, the dog would have a steak and Grogan would have a can of VB beer.”
He took 12 months off from army life but after trying his hand at “900 jobs” on “civvy street” he reenlisted.
An accident on an army motorcycle in 1971 landed him in hospital for nine months and rendered him medically unfit for service.
Dandenong’s Pillars of Freedom will host a dawn service at 6am on Tuesday 25 April.
At 9am, Vietnamese Veterans will conduct a service at the Vietnam War Memorial of Victoria at Dandenong RSL.
A march down Clow Street to the Pillars of Freedom will then depart the RSL about 10.30am with a service to follow.