A WAR HERO’S STORY

Chinchilla News - - FRONT PAGE - Ju­lia Baker Ju­lia.Baker@chin­chillanews.com.au

SEPTEM­BER, 1965: JOHN Achilles, a young jacka­roo from Chin­chilla, was work­ing in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory when his birth­day was drawn from a draft­ing lottery and he was con­scripted to serve in the Viet­nam War. He was just 20-years-old.

“It was a chal­lenge. I did a lot bet­ter than a lot of them though be­cause I’d been out in the bush and fired a weapon and fired a 303 and shot kan­ga­roos and a lot of the city boys had never done that, you know?” Mr Achilles said.

A year later, Mr Achilles found him­self serv­ing as a sig­naller in the 101st Field Bat­tery in the jun­gle near Nui Dat, call­ing up ar­tillery for the in­fantry with lit­tle more than with a wire­less pack on his back.

“You would have to pull the ae­rial down be­cause the Viet Cong would shoot wire­less op­er­a­tors, so you pulled it down over your shoul­der un­til you wanted to send a mes­sage,” Mr Achilles said.

But Mr Achilles car­ried with him one more cru­cial thing.

“I had a lit­tle 35mm cam­era and I used to put it in plas­tic be­cause of the mon­soon rains and carry it in a pouch on my hip,” he said.

Dur­ing his nine months in Viet­nam, Mr Achilles took an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs which are now a part of a new book writ­ten by his ar­tillery cap­tain and for­mer di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian War Mu­seum, Steve Gower.

“I’d use 36 shots and send them away to Ko­dak and have my home ad­dress in Chin­chilla on the slip and all the slides came to my home ad­dress, they never went back to Viet­nam, so they were all here when I came home,” Mr Achilles said.

Round Com­plete: An Ar­tillery For­ward Ob­server in Viet­nam, is a first-hand ac­count of an in­fantry solider dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

“It tells of all the op­er­a­tions we went on from 1966 un­til 1977... It was Steve’s job to call on ar­tillery and my job to call it in.

“No one likes to get killed but you’re fight­ing in a war - it’s you or them. You called in ar­tillery and although you couldn’t see where it was land­ing, you knew it was dev­as­ta­tion.”

Mr Achilles said while they have never faded, the re­cent pub­li­ca­tion of the book has brought back a lot of mem­o­ries, par­tic­u­larly of how Viet­nam Vet­er­ans were treated by the Aus­tralian com­mu­nity after the war.

“When we came home we marched in Brisbane and we got the keys to the city and it was a big ticker tape pa­rade in those days and then it was after 1970 ev­ery­body turned against us… march­ing and protest­ing,” he said.

Mr Achilles said he didn’t share his ex­pe­ri­ences for a long time be­cause of the con­tention sur­round­ing the Viet­nam War.

“When we came home we never talked about it, we just drifted back into so­ci­ety. It’s only the last few years it’s come out and they’ve started hav­ing this Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Day.”

Mr Achilles marked Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Day at the Chin­chilla RSL Me­mo­rial Club on Fri­day.

“It means ev­ery­thing to me,” he said.

“You re­flect on all your mates and the fel­las who didn’t make it.”

LEGACY: John Achilles has con­trib­uted his photo col­lec­tion to a book about the Viet­nam War.

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