The International departure lounge at Sydney airport was full of uniforms of all ranks. My mate Dave and I plus a couple of others were able to indulge in a couple of cold beverages while we waited, and we made good use of the time. The flight to Darwin was unremarkable. We stopped there in the middle of the night for refueling. No one was allowed off the plane of course. Couldn’t see much outside the porthole anyway except for a singe weak lamp-post light.
Early in the morning we stopped at Singapore to change aircraft, our first introduction to heat and humidity. Before we could leave the aircraft we were required to change our uniform shirts for civilian ones. Seemed the Singaporean Government didn’t want to be seen overtly supporting Australia in her war against North Vietnam. Looked a bit rediculous though, all those men wearing different shirts but the exact same khaki trousers and shoes or boots. After 2 or 3 hours with nothing to do but wait we were boarded onto a Hercules C130 aircraft for the journey to Ton San Nhut, the major airport of the capital city of Saigon, South Vietnam. Shirts were changed again.
As to be expected there was a huge US presence here with various types of aircraft and personnel. We were given lunch on a metal tray though not sure now what was on it. True to the old Army adage “Hurry Up and Wait” …. we waited … and waited. Finally we were sorted out and those of us bound for Nui Dat were directed towards a Caribou aircraft.
Onboard as we flew along in the noise filled aircraft it was pretty hard to talk, so we were mostly left to our own thoughts. It wasn’t too long before the aircraft began to bob and weave about slightly. I looked out the window and was taken aback to see a short airstrip rising directly towards my window! The aircraft dropped quickly at an angle to the airstrip before straightening out and immediately the pilot sharply hit the air brakes. We lurched to a stop.
We’d arrived at Luscombe airstrip at the 1st Australian Task Force – 1 ATF, located in a rubber plantation within Phouc Tuy Province right in the middle of hostile Viet Cong territory. But it was also home to around 5,000 Anzac troops, many of whom would be deployed on operations at any given time.
There was a small group of trucks nearby and we found the one that was taking us to our own unit. There were about 8 or 9 of us I think that dismounted from the truck outside 104 Sig Sqn Orderly Room. We soon began the ritual of “marching in” but with one difference. This time we got to keep our rifles.
Strange to think that about 24 hours ago we were at home in a country at peace. Now we stood in a place where outside the wire in the distance were people who seriously wanted to kill us.