A life of cheating death
THREE weeks before Mark Donaldson performed the action that saw him awarded a Victoria Cross, he was blown up by an improvised explosive device, wounded after being thrown 7m in the air.
Adding to the trauma, the next morning his partner, Emma, was told by two army officers that a helicopter sent to help rescue Donaldson had crashed and they didn’t know how he was.
He escaped the chopper accident and soon returned to the front line to act with such bravery that he became the first Australian to receive a VC in almost 40 years.
The IED incident is just one of many amazing insights into Donaldson’s personal life and frontline heroics in his new book, The Crossroad.
To tell his story, the Special Air Services Corporal received permission from his chain of command, which is standard policy and procedure for serving ADF members.
In a book that is emotionally powerful and, at times, a graphic account of what happens in the brutality of war, the 34-year-old Perth resident also reveals:
Previously untold details of his VC action and what really happened to those injured and killed around him.
How he was shot in the leg last year by an Afghan fighter.
His threat to quit the army if he wasn’t allowed to return to the front line after being awarded his VC.
But in August 2008, three weeks before his VC bravery, Emma, who was engaged to Donaldson at the time, thought her fiance may have suffered life-threatening injuries.
‘‘I got a phone call about 7am from Mark’s work asking me if I was home,’’ Emma recalls. ‘‘First thing they said was, ‘He’s not dead . . . but we’ll be at your place soon.’
‘‘About 10 minutes later, they rocked up and I was having a bit of a panic attack, some deep breaths.
‘‘They told me that Mark had been involved in an incident and gave me what details they had. But the whole policy is that no news is good news so I knew things weren’t great. But at that stage they couldn’t tell me much more than he’d been injured.’’
Emma, who worked at the SAS at the time, waited three tense hours until Mark was able to ring through and let her know he felt OK. Later in Tarin Kowt hospital, doctors found he had dents in his kneecap but cleared him of a broken wrist.
‘‘It was definitely a nervous three hours,’’ Emmasays.
‘‘I knew he was injured but didn’t know what the injuries were. I knew he wasn’t dead but I didn’t know if he’d lost a leg or an arm or what had happened to him. We’re just glad he’s safe.’’
The couple married at the end of 2008 and have two young children Kaylee, 7, and Hamish, 2.
When asked how many times he has ‘‘cheated death’’ while serving his country, the 34- year- old humbly plays down the dangers of his job.
‘‘ There were a couple of times in the VC contact where I was lucky,’’ he admitted this week.
‘‘To describe it as ‘cheating death’ is too broad. Is it when you’ve actually died and come back to life or is it when it’s been a close call?
‘‘A miss is a miss, whether it’s an inch or a mile.’’
VC hero Mark Donaldson with his wife, Emma, and two children, Kaylee and Hamish