McKay was a 15-year-old highschool pupil in his native Perth on the time of Serong’s deployment with “extra necessary issues to fret about, like footy and browsing”.
“I didn’t even know which aspect of the equator Vietnam was on,” he says.
However a couple of years later, whereas working as a trainee laptop programmer in Sydney, McKay was conscripted, fast-tracked by officer coaching and placed on a ship to Vietnam to steer a platoon of 35 males. He wasn’t even 21.
“It was the primary time I had ever been in a Chinook (helicopter). As quickly as you bought in that chopper and began flying off you realised you have been in a conflict zone, as a result of every thing was suffering from bomb craters … all over the place you appeared there have been folks with weapons,” he says.
“It was confronting, we have been within the deep finish.”
He would lead each day 10km patrols with every of his males carrying between 25 and 30kg of provides with one goal, “To search out the enemy and kill him.“
“Stealth was the operative phrase – you needed to be quiet. We wore facial camouflage, sleeves down, we didn’t have camouflage uniforms in these days – they have been inexperienced, however they’d go darkish due to the sweat.”
McKay was awarded the Navy Cross for his involvement within the Battle of Nui Le, throughout which he was shot twice, shattering his left shoulder.
“I spent a few 12 months in hospital – which is why I all the time get pissed off once I watch cops and robbers films and somebody will get a .45 within the shoulder and the subsequent day they only have their arm in a sling,” he says with a wry snort.
From 1962 to 1973, about 60,000 Australians served in defence of South Vietnam. Greater than 3000 have been wounded and 521 killed throughout the battle.
It could be practically 50 years for the reason that conflict ended, however in some methods the survivors by no means actually left, McKay says.
“We ship folks into an irregular surroundings the place they’re attempting to kill one another, after which once they come again they anticipate them to simply assimilate into society. That simply doesn’t occur,” he says.
“In close-quarter fight you see and listen to and scent belongings you actually don’t wish to, and people photos are etched in your mind completely.“
When the troopers did return, those that had been conscripted got discharge papers and despatched dwelling with out a lot as a debrief, he says. And their homecoming wasn’t all the time welcome.
The sentiment in direction of returning servicemen might be “nasty” due to folks’s opposition to Australia’s involvement within the conflict, he says. Troopers have been simpler targets than politicians.
A decade after he returned from Vietnam, McKay and his sergeant met at a funeral and mentioned the truth that a few of their platoon weren’t doing so properly.
They organised a reunion, which has now been occurring recurrently for 30 years.
“It has proved worthwhile. We get collectively, inform lies, drink an inexpensive quantity of beer,” he laughs.
“We now have a good time and it permits them to keep in touch with one another and assist one another. Six of the platoon have died and we go to the funerals and assist one another. If somebody’s having a tough time we attain out.“
McKay, who went on to turn out to be a colonel and likewise realized Vietnamese, visits the previously war-torn nation recurrently.
He leads tour teams with Mat McLachlan Battlefield Excursions and has written books about his life as a soldier and past.
He’s even turn out to be associates with a few of his former enemies. They play tennis collectively, have a couple of beers and have a good time the actual fact they’re nonetheless alive.
“There’s no anger. We have been simply blokes doing their job. The disgrace of it was, we shouldn’t have been there,” says McKay.