Dangerous and nerve-shredding days in the jungle heat and rain of the Vietnam War

It was August 1, 1967, and Bill Munro was on patrol in Vietnam when explosions pierced the air.

“I remember the date easily because it was my dad’s birthday,” Mr Munro said.

The Diggers were wrapping up Operation Cairns with— units moving towards pick-up points to return to the base at Nui Dat when D Company came across a recently occupied Viet Cong camp.

As they investigated further, two of the patrol stood on mines. Both were killed. They were aged 19 and 21.

The detonations wounded another six soldiers.

“We all heard the explosions as the mines detonated and I think we all had an immediate inkling of what had happened,” Mr Munro said.

Camera IconVietnam War veteran Bill Munro at the State War Memorial. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

“Then the radio chatter started, some thinking that D Company was under attack while others were calling for a dustoff to get the dead and wounded out.

“I remember a sense of shock and disbelief when we returned to camp. We had been in Vietnam for two months and these were the battalion’s first casualties.”

Mr Munro had found himself in the complex, often harrowing conflict after receiving a letter the year before.

It told the then 20-year-old his number had come up in the “birthday ballot” — a system in which men were randomly selected for national service by their date of birth.

At the time he was working as an accounts clerk in a small merchant banking company in Melbourne.

But all of a sudden he faced two years in the army, just as Australia’s involvement in the war in Vietnam was hotting up — and he was to report to Victoria Barracks.

A row of tents at Nui Dat.
Camera IconA row of tents at Nui Dat. Credit: Bill Munro/supplied

Unlike the experiences of some, it was not a massive shock.

“I think in those days we believed in government,” he said. “If the government said we needed to commit to troops and for national service then that was the way that it was.

“We bore the brunt of the ‘Save our sons’ movement when we turned up to Victoria Barracks and stood in lines, and then we were bussed up to Puckapunyal (training camp).”

It was then that the reality hit home.

“Looking back on it I think that we felt that . . . our instructors, who were mostly ex-World War II and ex-Malaya and Korea, didn’t really want to be training a bunch of civilians from a myriad of backgrounds.

“They were soldiers with war experience so they took it out on us a bit but maybe we had not been subjected to that form of discipline in our first 20 years.”

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