The first noticeable, from the confusion and chaos of the American hurry-up-and-wait method, is the crisp orderliness that awaited me when I applied for the right to visit them at the Task Force Headquarters south of Saigon at Nui Dat.
Dropping from dense clouds that are spread like thick marshmallow across a plate of blue, you can gaze from a window of the “Wallaby Airlines” caribou flight, and see the old rubber plantation that serves as the “Aussie” headquarters. Ringed with rubber trees and remnants of banana groves, the setting is cool efficiency and clean. Clean is everywhere and it is a welcome change to what the rest of Vietnam offers.
Tanned “Diggers” go about their duties under the whipping sun and are pleasant regardless of the situation. Even under the most trying of conditions, deep in leech-infested waters where every step was a pain as the thorns and barbs tore at your skin I heard none of the bitching and complaining that I have heard on other patrols. They are here for a job needing to be done and they do it. The risks, hazards and sacrifices are just part of the duty. The Australians have learned a very important thing that seems to escape Americans.
Maggio would battle in ‘HELL’ with untested Aussie soldiers
There is to be found in this mortal sin called Vietnam a breath of spring air that makes an effort to cleanse the area that smells of decay. The freshness comes in the form of the Australian Military Forces that are fighting in “their type of war.” Compared to the conglomeration of Americans here … 600,000 … the 8,000 man Australian Task Force might not change the course that this ill fated ship is sailing, but it will do the job assigned and will accomplish the mission far better and with greater military proficiency and professionalism than any unit in the United States field forces … why?
Mainly because they care. Not so much as to what happen here in Vietnam, and not so much as to the eventual port the ships’ captains will make, but they care … about their country … their army and themselves.
And that is why in all aspects that I viewed, they emerged as winners. After eight years of Marine Corps, Special Forces and Congolese military service, I have come upon true professionalism and were the time in an earlier age I would enlist.
Pride is present in many forms. One is the American habit of showing badges on starched uniforms and of spit-shined boots. This the Diggers avoid. There are corps insignia and the parachute badge, but it stops there as all belong to one army - Australia.
But the pride that I found is a subtle doing whatever is needed to ensure the completion of the mission given and this I think is the best kind of pride.
It is an air that surrounds the Australian soldier in all spheres … at sea, on patrol or in conversation. This is a professional army. Some are of National Service (drafted) but all have the same aura of being the best and when the chips are down the “Digger” with a wry smile and fight-searching eyes is ready for the contest.
Before the original concept of Special forces was exploited by the “Starchies” in the fat Pentagon, the unit that I was assigned to did some work in the Panamanian jungles with the Australian Army’s SAS (Special Air Service) … the parallel to our Green Berets. It was evident at the conclusion of the operation that they were very good - as their performance in Malaya and Borneo has shown - and we had much to learn.
Now as a war correspondent I am not allowed to visit SAS; rightly so as most of their work is classified, but I did get to do the next big thing. New men learning a new area in any war is always a good thing. And so it was that I hooked up with Delta Company, Fourth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, the Road Runners.
Four Battalion is new to the war and are anxious to get on with it. Two Battalion, their predecessor spent an entire year on patrol, leaving the field only on two occasions and neither for more than one week. Being as familiar as the next person and more so than most about military ways, I know of no American unit that can match this record.
From a newspaper article printed in the USA in 1968 by Joe Maggio, a US freelance war correspondent and ex US Special Forces
Thin and sinewy, the officer in charge of Delta Company is a no nonsense major by the name of Deighton. I watched him at his briefing prior to the patrol … and noticed with a soldier’s critical eye that his staff were given ample time to give their own views.
During the patrol he led by example and even though I was a civilian and senior by a few years, I found myself addressing him as “Sir”. But it is as it was and rightfully so. Major Deighton’s poise and grasp of the situation at hand is the hallmark of the good leader.
In the words of author, teacher and combat cameraman, Elliot Parker: “Americans take America with them no matter where they are. They have yet to learn how to live in another country with only that which the country provides. This is why they are losing the war. The Australians have learned this. They don’t need USOs, especially clubs and other trivia.”
The early dew was still wet upon the trees when Lt Ross Sillar, 10 Platoon commander, inspected his “Diggers” to see if they were prepared for their first attempt at patrolling in this war. They were!
Lt Sillar, a former student at an Australian university, is on active duty for only two years after which he will return to his studies. A fine host and active conversationalist, he is an eager student of his environment and is doing his service well.
I went with his patrol and admired the way he and an old campaigner …. Sgt Ray (Shorty) Hannah, … handled a most trying day. The day ended with no contact. “Charlie was watching us I’m sure but didn’t want to fight.”
No matter. There will be other days for D Company of the Fourth Battalion.
My visit ended but arrangements were made to return and spend some time with them on another operation. I will go.
Even though contact was not made and most have never been fired upon, I would go at a moments notice under any circumstances with Delta Company into whatever this war has to offer.
Article courtesy of
2Lt Ross Sillar
D Company, 4 RAR/NZ ANZAC 1968/69
D Company, the Roadrunners.
Beep . . Beep !
4 RAR Associations of Australia