This essay is written by my friend, Donald Tate, an Australian Vietnam War Veteran.  Australia supported the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and sent young soldiers from their own country to help fight the communists.  Don has written an excellent book about his life and of his Vietnam experience (I have reviewed his work on Amazon.com).  Some of what is written below is included in his book – to some it may be too difficult to read, but he tells it like it is.  I will leave links to Don’s book and FB page at the end of this posting.  Warning:  this is lengthy – almost an e-book by itself – but worthy of reading.

Make no mistake, when I signed on the dotted line, back in the middle of summer of ’68, I fully expected that the Australian Army would honour its commitment to look after me if I happened to get wounded. I thought integrity was the cornerstone of our armed forces- that when it took fit, young men for its war machine, we’d receive the very best of care if we got spat out the other end.
I should’ve known better. But I was eighteen then, full of patriotic fervour and testosterone, and I would’ve believed anything if it meant getting to the war over the horizon.
I was naïve and stupid. And men who march off to war with empty-headed notions of war’s grandeur like that, are bound to be disappointed. They’re also the ones most likely to get shot. Like I did.
And there I found myself that late afternoon in July 1969, laying in the mud with my rifle lost, while the Viet Cong poured machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades into us from a bunker system.
Seemed like hours went by till others from the platoon managed to extricate us.
The air was full of red and green tracer bullets, the sickening smell of cordite hung everywhere, leaf litter exploded all around. It was all lightning and thunder and chaos.
The bullet smashed through my hip joint, and ricocheted eighteen inches down the femur. It was the most brutal of wounds. I thought I’d had my head blown off, such was the pain.
Despite the cacophony, I threw off my webbing and pulled my trousers down to my knees. A thick sausage of minced bone and sinew hung from the blackened hole in my side, cauterized.
A “homer” I thought to myself in a fleeting, rational moment. I’d be getting out of that shit-hole. And even in those seconds, I couldn’t help but think that being physically wounded put me in that rare category of men- I’d risked all for my country, taken on the enemy up close and personal, and would have the scars to prove it.
Only a small percentage of men would ever have that.
They got four of us out that night by penetrator and litter- me and Pte Johnny Walker, Pte Derek Nixon-Smith, and Cpl Andy Ochiltree.
Then, with the war behind me, the chopper flew us through the night to ‘Vampire pad’- the Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau. The hospitalization process had begun.
But if I’d thought the infantry side of things was bad, I was in for a shock.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but specialists have advised me in recent years, that I was the victim of the most negligent and insensitive medical treatment possible, profoundly affecting me for all these past four decades, and for the rest of my life.
The news reports were soft-coated for public consumption. My condition was reported as “satisfactory”.
Satisfactory to whom? Some pencil-pusher? Some officer?
“Satisfactory condition” my arse.
Whichever official handed that information out to the media should’ve spent a little time in my shoes.
A detailed analysis of my In-Patient Records and Treatment Records, recently gained under the Freedom of Information Act has been a revelation.
It was better than a diary:

July 19th 1969: The night I was wounded. The triage doctor acknowledges that I had received a “gunshot wound” while “assaulting a bunker system”, but can’t locate the bullet. I was in shock, covered in mud, shivering with cold, and nakedness. There was general chaos, as other men arrived from other units, many of them torn by shrapnel from mine explosions in the Long Hai’s.
Last thing I remember before the surgery was a doctor’s exploratory finger up my arse, trying to locate where the bullet had finished up. They don’t find it, and operate immediately.

July 20th 1969: There’s pandemonium in the ward. The Americans have landed on the moon. A doctor escaped the jubilation long enough to tell me I’d keep my leg but that I’ll never walk properly again, that I can expect to be disabled for the rest of my life. It was hard to comprehend. But I was more concerned about the wounded Viet Cong soldier allowed to wander around the ward like he owned the place. It was very disconcerting.

July 22nd 1969: After a pep-talk and thank you from my Company commander, Major Laurie Lewis, I’m loaded on board a dirty old Hercules- the Air Forces’ cargo planes- and a three-day horror trip home commences. Along with about forty other men, I’m bouncing around in the back of that thing all the way home to Australia. For men with flesh wounds, it was one thing; for those with shattered bones, altogether another. We were hooked up to catheters and urine bottles and plasma, with wax stuffed in our ears to drown out the sound of the plane’s engines.
It was the start of a realisation that we were no longer of any consequence. No longer able-bodied, no longer of use.
The trip home takes four days- via Butterworth, Darwin, Richmond, Amberley. Most of us are in a worst state when we arrive home than we were when we left Vietnam.

July 25th 1969: Army ambulances meet us on the tarmac, and we’re loaded into them. My parents have walked out onto the tarmac, but they aren’t allowed to speak to me, nor I to them. I watch them through the window of the ambulance like that haunting scene from ‘The Fountainhead’ with Gary Cooper. My mother has gone grey in the eight months I’ve been away. My father looks gaunt. For the first time it hits me how hard it must have been for parents to have your son fighting a war so far away from home. They follow me to the Military Hospital at Yeronga. It’s an hour and a half away, but when they get there, some officious bastard sends them packing. Tells them they “aren’t needed.” I’m distraught about this, and made my feelings known. I’ve got a raging temperature, I’m “shivering in severe pain and discomfort”, and I’ve just come home after almost eight months as an infantryman in a war. But I’m not allowed to speak to my mother, not allowed to have her arms around me.

July 26th 1969: An unknown doctor writes: “I suggest you watch this lad closely as his wound is of the type that may develop a chronic infection.” It’s ignored. During the next fortnight or so, I’m forced to sit in a wheelchair, walk on the shattered hip between parallel bars, and get wheelchaired to a toilet. Each action is an agony. Even a person walking down the aisle, creating the most minor of tremor, brings tears to my eyes. But nurses and orderlies are quick to tell me that the pain is ‘psychosomatic’.
No one is aware of it yet, but infection has set in, though there are continual references to it: “the dressing smelt offensive”; there was “vile-smelling ooze coming from the wound”.
A Capt. Maynard writes that he is “very worried” and that “the patient is in considerable pain.” But except for an increase in morphine (which doesn’t appear to have any effect, and was probably a placebo) my complaints about the pain continue to fall on deaf ears. Despite my temperature remaining inordinately high, day in, day out, no one yet appreciates how much the wound has deteriorated.

August 8th 1969: my father, who had the phone on, and lived just thirty or so kilometres away from the hospital at Ellen Grove, receives an ‘Urgent’ telegram from the Hospital. It reads: “Request permission to administer general anaesthetic to your son for a change of dressings and skin grafts.”
He telegraphed them back: “Permission granted.”
I’d been to a war and back, and still had no say in such things.

August 11th 1969: (fifteen days after being warned to watch for infection): Alarm bells start ringing- “Apparently no wound culture has been done.” A pathology test was undertaken immediately. The result- “profuse” infection had now invaded the wound and the hip joint. All the walking and other activity on the joint had exacerbated the potential for infection, and the joint was severely infected.
Now I’m in big trouble. Antibiotics were changed, and upgraded considerably. It’s a bit late though. I let the nursing Sisters know what I think of them

August 21st 1969: There is a simple note- “Hates all Sisters.” It wasn’t completely true, just some of them. I knew my own body, and it was obvious to me that I was being treated poorly. What the Sisters didn’t know was that my resentments were deep-seated, originating in Vietnam itself, where army stupidity had almost cost me my life on a number of occasions.
One delicious Sister gets sick of looking at my face covered in pimples and blackheads from the filth of Vietnam, and sits beside me for a couple of hours cleaning me with cotton balls soaked in alcohol. It was a rare kindness.
I fell in love with her. I was apt to do that.

September 1st 1969: (six weeks after the gunshot): A pathology test records that now there were four different infections eating away at the joint. A new regime of antibiotics is installed. I’m ordered to ‘bed rest’, as if I had anything better to do.

September 22nd 1969: The wound continues to deteriorate. Some Sisters insist that I ‘weight bear’, though the hip is clearly unable to take my weight. Still, no x-rays have been taken.

September 29th 1969: It’s been two months since I entered the hospital. Relatives and friends stop visiting. There’s a limit to people’s empathy. My leg is now about 10cm shorter than the other. I inform them that there is a discernible ‘clunk’ in the hip as I hobble between the parallel bars. They decide to take new x-rays.

September 30th 1969: There’s a simple entry on both the Doctor’s record, and the Ward Sisters Record after the x-rays. They state, rather innocuously, “It would seem that the bullet went through the femoral head, and the hip became infected.” Eleven weeks of negligent care, but it only warrants the blandest of acknowledgments that they’ve gone about it all wrong. I notice that there are serious faces around me now. There’s a lot of ‘conferencing’. Nurses and Sisters now start acting more graciously.

October 1st 1969: They place me in traction to immobilize me completely. It’s back to bed pans and piss bottles. The doctor tells me I’ll be that way for about another five months. I despair at that, and argue the toss with them. I see my life ebbing away.
Outside my bedroom window, just about every weekend it seemed, the nurses and doctors would hold barbecues. There they’d be eating and drinking and having it off in unused beds in the ward, while we young men watched our own youth drift away.
Frustration began to turn to bitterness.

October 11th 1969: There’s another party in the hospital grounds. Beautiful nurses and Sisters, all breasts and thighs, flitting about a barbecue. And then there’s us patients, staring out the window at them. Me and three other patients get drunk on Bacardi rum smuggled into the ward by my father. He used a flower vase to disguise it. All of us were in traction- the other three as a result of car accidents back here in Australia. A Sister springs us dancing in our beds. I fancied one of them. She’s furious, enraged at our stupidity. The next morning, we’re all charged with some offence, and “confined to barracks”. They also deny us our beer ration for a fortnight. Stupid bastards.

October 23rd 1969: Something major is in the air. I hear the first mention of a “hip fusion”, though another report contradicts this- apparently, another expert is of the opinion that the hip will probably “fuse by itself”.

December: 25th 1969: Christmas. I talk myself out of traction, and am allowed out on “official leave” because there’ll be hardly any nurses or Sisters around the place. I’m up on crutches, but the leg is now 20cm shorter than the other one. I’m allowed to spend time at home, where my father is charged with the responsibility for dressing the wound, four times a day. The hole in my side is still as big as half a football- full of pus and rotting flesh. He has no training in that regard, but it seems simple enough- take out the cotton-wool balls four times a day, then fill the hole up again. He does so religiously. Such sensitivity.
In this manner, these brief respites from hospital, all my leave entitlements are eaten up, including all that I’d accrued in the war.
Since I’d also missed out on the R&R leave all other soldiers got in Vietnam, I was pretty pissed off. Seemed like just another injustice.

For the next seven months, I remain on crutches. There is no physiotherapy, nor any psychotherapy- no attempt to help me come to terms with either the physical or psychological consequences of having fought in that war. My muscles waste away in the leg, and I can’t tolerate any weight-bearing of any sort.
Life is passing me by. The best years of my life are being lost forever.
I have a good talk with an officer who comes around. He said I need to get some sex.
I had a few serious girlfriends around my bedside while I was in hospital, but found I tended to gravitate towards loose women. Took a lot less work.
I figured quality women weren’t about to bother themselves with a bloke wearing a nappy on his hip. Others aren’t too fussy.
I was on a darker path of life, a real down slide.
It was like sliding down the snake on a Snakes ‘n Ladders board, and the snake was a slippery one indeed. More snakes than ladders.
But knowing it and doing something about it were two different things. I couldn’t pull myself away from it even if I’d wanted to. It had its perks.

April, 1970: Nine months have gone by. A Dr Bendeich notes that “(my) hip is as painful as ever.” He determines a further course of antibiotics should be started immediately, as a prelude to a major operation to fuse the hip altogether in two months time, but only “if the infection seems adequately controlled and quiescent then”. It’s not spelled out entirely what a ‘hip fusion’ means.

May 10th 1970: My 21st birthday has come and gone. I score some day leave and go into Brisbane to tackle the Moratorium marchers. I figure someone has to stand up for the men still up in the war, still fighting, still dying. Men like my mates from training day- Henry Stanczyk, and Peter Douglas. I wade into them, crutches and all, belting every man I can, and the big, tough unionists keep knocking me down.
That night, I wondered at how reviled we veterans of that war were. How many other wounded veterans from previous wars would be knocked down by citizens on a city street?

July 1st 1970: It’s been almost a year since I was first shot. In a ten hour operation, the diseased and shattered hip joint is removed completely. Then, a bone graft is inserted, and a pin hammered through the bone, tied by a screw. The hip is fused.
And that’s it for me.
I’m to confront the one thing I’d dreaded for almost a year- there was no coming back from that wound. Now, and for all time, I would be permanently disabled.
A male nurse told me I’d died for about thirty seconds during the operation. What’s more, the anaesthetic had worn off mid-operation. I’d felt the hammer blows as the steel rod was driven through the hip. Only, I couldn’t tell them I could feel it.
When I awoke, I was horrified to find I had been imprisoned in a full body plaster cast, from high on my chest to the toes of my right leg. I was flat on my back, vomiting over myself and unable to move in any direction. I was gripped by claustrophobia, like I was being slowly suffocated.
For days, the nausea and anxiety caused by that plaster was compounded by blood oozing from the wound, and I had to lay in it all that time, so that the plaster had turned a dirty black, from my stomach to my knee. When I needed to go to the toilet, the mechanical operation of using a bedpan was so difficult, that accidents occurred regularly. I could not be washed properly, despite their best efforts.

July 4th 1970: A Sister’s note reads: “Pressure areas are not being done by staff.” I’ve been laying on my back for four days already, and I’ve got bed sores on my heels and back, but her stern notation needs to be repeated again the next day, before I’m attended to.

I met Carole Marskell at a barbecue at my parent’s house just prior to the major hip operation.
I was on crutches; she, stunning, cascading black hair, and wearing a body-hugging, orange micro-mini dress. She was the most intoxicating woman I had ever met. She also had two children by the man she’d just walked out on.
It was love at first sight.
She was there at my bedside when I recovered from the hip operation.

For the rest of July, that year, I was thus confined to bed before the plaster was changed. It needed to be- it was soaked in blood and pus and waste.
Not even a bottle of ‘Californian Poppy’ poured down the front and back could kill the smell.
They put a new one straight back on, but at least I had been cleaned up a little, and felt clean to some extent. At that point, I was considerably brightened. For the first time in a year, I had some positives in my life. My leg would be about the same length; I’d walk relatively normally.
Just had to get through the plaster period.
However, personal complications were arising. By now, I was allowed up on crutches, and could walk the length of the ward carrying this huge plaster cast. I’d met my future wife, Carole and the love affair was blossoming. I wanted out of that hospital, wanted Carole, wanted what was left of my life back.
I was agitating for leave. They were concerned about the protocols of the healing process, without any real appreciation of where I was at emotionally, and me and those officers at the hospital were heading for a showdown.
No longer was I an obliging patient, the mindless automaton they had turned me into way back before Vietnam. I voiced my feelings. By the middle of August I was threatening to go AWOL to get to Carole.

August 22nd 1970: A Psych evaluation is done. A Dr. Purton states: “Personal problems are overwhelming.” I’ll say. I go AWOL in a taxi- still in the full body plaster. My feet are jammed up against the door, and my head sticks out the window. I meet up with Carole. The Military Police set up road blocks around Brisbane to catch me, as if I’m some escaped criminal. They arrest me in the morning. We’ve cemented our relationship. I know she’ll be there for me in days to come.
Purton again: “He is in real trouble if the arthrodesis gets infected or disturbed”, and threatens me that if I abscond from the hospital again, I’d be “tied to the bed for months.”
And risk losing the war pension they were paying me.

September 12th 1970: Another Psych evaluation: The Commanding Officer writes that I had “complained of many injustices” since my time in the hospital. While he conceded that “(my) claims could have some basis in fact, his elaboration and predicate thinking is indicative of a paranoid reaction.” In his opinion, my reaction was “…related to his prolonged period of enforced inactivity, plus a projection of hostility against authority figures onto the Army.”
Of course it was. Einstein, he wasn’t.

January 28th 1970: My time in the army is over. I’m discharged “medically unfit”. There’s no place in the army for men with disabilities. I’m uneducated. Got no skills, except for killing people.
An ambulance turns up and transports me from the Military Hospital to the Repatriation Hospital at Greenslopes. I’m now a “veteran” of the war.
As a parting gift, the Army gave me a 30-day rail pass to use anywhere in Australia. A fat lot of use it was to a man in a plaster cast. Army stupidity at its best.

April, 1970: Carole drives me ‘home’ to start a new life together- an old bus parked in a caravan park at Birkdale. It leaks. There are no flyscreens. Frogs come and go. Mosquitoes abound.
It’s a new start if nothing else.
There was only one way we could go.
Upwards.
(‘Some of the chapters of ‘The War Within’ deal with these things.)

Make no mistake, when I signed on the dotted line, back in the middle of summer of ’68, I fully expected that the Australian Army would honour its commitment to look after me if I happened to get wounded. I thought integrity was the cornerstone of our armed forces- that when it took fit, young men for its war machine, we’d receive the very best of care if we got spat out the other end.
I should’ve known better. But I was eighteen then, full of patriotic fervour and testosterone, and I would’ve believed anything if it meant getting to the war over the horizon.
I was naïve and stupid. And men who march off to war with empty-headed notions of war’s grandeur like that, are bound to be disappointed. They’re also the ones most likely to get shot. Like I did.
And there I found myself that late afternoon in July 1969, laying in the mud with my rifle lost, while the Viet Cong poured machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades into us from a bunker system.
Seemed like hours went by till others from the platoon managed to extricate us.
The air was full of red and green tracer bullets, the sickening smell of cordite hung everywhere, leaf litter exploded all around. It was all lightning and thunder and chaos.
The bullet smashed through my hip joint, and ricocheted eighteen inches down the femur. It was the most brutal of wounds. I thought I’d had my head blown off, such was the pain.
Despite the cacophony, I threw off my webbing and pulled my trousers down to my knees. A thick sausage of minced bone and sinew hung from the blackened hole in my side, cauterized.
A “homer” I thought to myself in a fleeting, rational moment. I’d be getting out of that shit-hole. And even in those seconds, I couldn’t help but think that being physically wounded put me in that rare category of men- I’d risked all for my country, taken on the enemy up close and personal, and would have the scars to prove it.
Only a small percentage of men would ever have that.
They got four of us out that night by penetrator and litter- me and Pte Johnny Walker, Pte Derek Nixon-Smith, and Cpl Andy Ochiltree.
Then, with the war behind me, the chopper flew us through the night to ‘Vampire pad’- the Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau. The hospitalization process had begun.
But if I’d thought the infantry side of things was bad, I was in for a shock.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but specialists have advised me in recent years, that I was the victim of the most negligent and insensitive medical treatment possible, profoundly affecting me for all these past four decades, and for the rest of my life.
The news reports were soft-coated for public consumption. My condition was reported as “satisfactory”.
Satisfactory to whom? Some pencil-pusher? Some officer?
“Satisfactory condition” my arse.
Whichever official handed that information out to the media should’ve spent a little time in my shoes.
A detailed analysis of my In-Patient Records and Treatment Records, recently gained under the Freedom of Information Act has been a revelation.
It was better than a diary:

July 19th 1969: The night I was wounded. The triage doctor acknowledges that I had received a “gunshot wound” while “assaulting a bunker system”, but can’t locate the bullet. I was in shock, covered in mud, shivering with cold, and nakedness. There was general chaos, as other men arrived from other units, many of them torn by shrapnel from mine explosions in the Long Hai’s.
Last thing I remember before the surgery was a doctor’s exploratory finger up my arse, trying to locate where the bullet had finished up. They don’t find it, and operate immediately.

July 20th 1969: There’s pandemonium in the ward. The Americans have landed on the moon. A doctor escaped the jubilation long enough to tell me I’d keep my leg but that I’ll never walk properly again, that I can expect to be disabled for the rest of my life. It was hard to comprehend. But I was more concerned about the wounded Viet Cong soldier allowed to wander around the ward like he owned the place. It was very disconcerting.

July 22nd 1969: After a pep-talk and thank you from my Company commander, Major Laurie Lewis, I’m loaded on board a dirty old Hercules- the Air Forces’ cargo planes- and a three-day horror trip home commences. Along with about forty other men, I’m bouncing around in the back of that thing all the way home to Australia. For men with flesh wounds, it was one thing; for those with shattered bones, altogether another. We were hooked up to catheters and urine bottles and plasma, with wax stuffed in our ears to drown out the sound of the plane’s engines.
It was the start of a realisation that we were no longer of any consequence. No longer able-bodied, no longer of use.
The trip home takes four days- via Butterworth, Darwin, Richmond, Amberley. Most of us are in a worst state when we arrive home than we were when we left Vietnam.

July 25th 1969: Army ambulances meet us on the tarmac, and we’re loaded into them. My parents have walked out onto the tarmac, but they aren’t allowed to speak to me, nor I to them. I watch them through the window of the ambulance like that haunting scene from ‘The Fountainhead’ with Gary Cooper. My mother has gone grey in the eight months I’ve been away. My father looks gaunt. For the first time it hits me how hard it must have been for parents to have your son fighting a war so far away from home. They follow me to the Military Hospital at Yeronga. It’s an hour and a half away, but when they get there, some officious bastard sends them packing. Tells them they “aren’t needed.” I’m distraught about this, and made my feelings known. I’ve got a raging temperature, I’m “shivering in severe pain and discomfort”, and I’ve just come home after almost eight months as an infantryman in a war. But I’m not allowed to speak to my mother, not allowed to have her arms around me.

July 26th 1969: An unknown doctor writes: “I suggest you watch this lad closely as his wound is of the type that may develop a chronic infection.” It’s ignored. During the next fortnight or so, I’m forced to sit in a wheelchair, walk on the shattered hip between parallel bars, and get wheelchaired to a toilet. Each action is an agony. Even a person walking down the aisle, creating the most minor of tremor, brings tears to my eyes. But nurses and orderlies are quick to tell me that the pain is ‘psychosomatic’.
No one is aware of it yet, but infection has set in, though there are continual references to it: “the dressing smelt offensive”; there was “vile-smelling ooze coming from the wound”.
A Capt. Maynard writes that he is “very worried” and that “the patient is in considerable pain.” But except for an increase in morphine (which doesn’t appear to have any effect, and was probably a placebo) my complaints about the pain continue to fall on deaf ears. Despite my temperature remaining inordinately high, day in, day out, no one yet appreciates how much the wound has deteriorated.

August 8th 1969: my father, who had the phone on, and lived just thirty or so kilometres away from the hospital at Ellen Grove, receives an ‘Urgent’ telegram from the Hospital. It reads: “Request permission to administer general anaesthetic to your son for a change of dressings and skin grafts.”
He telegraphed them back: “Permission granted.”
I’d been to a war and back, and still had no say in such things.

August 11th 1969: (fifteen days after being warned to watch for infection): Alarm bells start ringing- “Apparently no wound culture has been done.” A pathology test was undertaken immediately. The result- “profuse” infection had now invaded the wound and the hip joint. All the walking and other activity on the joint had exacerbated the potential for infection, and the joint was severely infected.
Now I’m in big trouble. Antibiotics were changed, and upgraded considerably. It’s a bit late though. I let the nursing Sisters know what I think of them

August 21st 1969: There is a simple note- “Hates all Sisters.” It wasn’t completely true, just some of them. I knew my own body, and it was obvious to me that I was being treated poorly. What the Sisters didn’t know was that my resentments were deep-seated, originating in Vietnam itself, where army stupidity had almost cost me my life on a number of occasions.
One delicious Sister gets sick of looking at my face covered in pimples and blackheads from the filth of Vietnam, and sits beside me for a couple of hours cleaning me with cotton balls soaked in alcohol. It was a rare kindness.
I fell in love with her. I was apt to do that.

September 1st 1969: (six weeks after the gunshot): A pathology test records that now there were four different infections eating away at the joint. A new regime of antibiotics is installed. I’m ordered to ‘bed rest’, as if I had anything better to do.

September 22nd 1969: The wound continues to deteriorate. Some Sisters insist that I ‘weight bear’, though the hip is clearly unable to take my weight. Still, no x-rays have been taken.

September 29th 1969: It’s been two months since I entered the hospital. Relatives and friends stop visiting. There’s a limit to people’s empathy. My leg is now about 10cm shorter than the other. I inform them that there is a discernible ‘clunk’ in the hip as I hobble between the parallel bars. They decide to take new x-rays.

September 30th 1969: There’s a simple entry on both the Doctor’s record, and the Ward Sisters Record after the x-rays. They state, rather innocuously, “It would seem that the bullet went through the femoral head, and the hip became infected.” Eleven weeks of negligent care, but it only warrants the blandest of acknowledgments that they’ve gone about it all wrong. I notice that there are serious faces around me now. There’s a lot of ‘conferencing’. Nurses and Sisters now start acting more graciously.

October 1st 1969: They place me in traction to immobilize me completely. It’s back to bed pans and piss bottles. The doctor tells me I’ll be that way for about another five months. I despair at that, and argue the toss with them. I see my life ebbing away.
Outside my bedroom window, just about every weekend it seemed, the nurses and doctors would hold barbecues. There they’d be eating and drinking and having it off in unused beds in the ward, while we young men watched our own youth drift away.
Frustration began to turn to bitterness.

October 11th 1969: There’s another party in the hospital grounds. Beautiful nurses and Sisters, all breasts and thighs, flitting about a barbecue. And then there’s us patients, staring out the window at them. Me and three other patients get drunk on Bacardi rum smuggled into the ward by my father. He used a flower vase to disguise it. All of us were in traction- the other three as a result of car accidents back here in Australia. A Sister springs us dancing in our beds. I fancied one of them. She’s furious, enraged at our stupidity. The next morning, we’re all charged with some offence, and “confined to barracks”. They also deny us our beer ration for a fortnight. Stupid bastards.

October 23rd 1969: Something major is in the air. I hear the first mention of a “hip fusion”, though another report contradicts this- apparently, another expert is of the opinion that the hip will probably “fuse by itself”.

December: 25th 1969: Christmas. I talk myself out of traction, and am allowed out on “official leave” because there’ll be hardly any nurses or Sisters around the place. I’m up on crutches, but the leg is now 20cm shorter than the other one. I’m allowed to spend time at home, where my father is charged with the responsibility for dressing the wound, four times a day. The hole in my side is still as big as half a football- full of pus and rotting flesh. He has no training in that regard, but it seems simple enough- take out the cotton-wool balls four times a day, then fill the hole up again. He does so religiously. Such sensitivity.
In this manner, these brief respites from hospital, all my leave entitlements are eaten up, including all that I’d accrued in the war.
Since I’d also missed out on the R&R leave all other soldiers got in Vietnam, I was pretty pissed off. Seemed like just another injustice.

For the next seven months, I remain on crutches. There is no physiotherapy, nor any psychotherapy- no attempt to help me come to terms with either the physical or psychological consequences of having fought in that war. My muscles waste away in the leg, and I can’t tolerate any weight-bearing of any sort.
Life is passing me by. The best years of my life are being lost forever.
I have a good talk with an officer who comes around. He said I need to get some sex.
I had a few serious girlfriends around my bedside while I was in hospital, but found I tended to gravitate towards loose women. Took a lot less work.
I figured quality women weren’t about to bother themselves with a bloke wearing a nappy on his hip. Others aren’t too fussy.
I was on a darker path of life, a real down slide.
It was like sliding down the snake on a Snakes ‘n Ladders board, and the snake was a slippery one indeed. More snakes than ladders.
But knowing it and doing something about it were two different things. I couldn’t pull myself away from it even if I’d wanted to. It had its perks.

April, 1970: Nine months have gone by. A Dr Bendeich notes that “(my) hip is as painful as ever.” He determines a further course of antibiotics should be started immediately, as a prelude to a major operation to fuse the hip altogether in two months time, but only “if the infection seems adequately controlled and quiescent then”. It’s not spelled out entirely what a ‘hip fusion’ means.

May 10th 1970: My 21st birthday has come and gone. I score some day leave and go into Brisbane to tackle the Moratorium marchers. I figure someone has to stand up for the men still up in the war, still fighting, still dying. Men like my mates from training day- Henry Stanczyk, and Peter Douglas. I wade into them, crutches and all, belting every man I can, and the big, tough unionists keep knocking me down.
That night, I wondered at how reviled we veterans of that war were. How many other wounded veterans from previous wars would be knocked down by citizens on a city street?

July 1st 1970: It’s been almost a year since I was first shot. In a ten hour operation, the diseased and shattered hip joint is removed completely. Then, a bone graft is inserted, and a pin hammered through the bone, tied by a screw. The hip is fused.
And that’s it for me.
I’m to confront the one thing I’d dreaded for almost a year- there was no coming back from that wound. Now, and for all time, I would be permanently disabled.
A male nurse told me I’d died for about thirty seconds during the operation. What’s more, the anaesthetic had worn off mid-operation. I’d felt the hammer blows as the steel rod was driven through the hip. Only, I couldn’t tell them I could feel it.
When I awoke, I was horrified to find I had been imprisoned in a full body plaster cast, from high on my chest to the toes of my right leg. I was flat on my back, vomiting over myself and unable to move in any direction. I was gripped by claustrophobia, like I was being slowly suffocated.
For days, the nausea and anxiety caused by that plaster was compounded by blood oozing from the wound, and I had to lay in it all that time, so that the plaster had turned a dirty black, from my stomach to my knee. When I needed to go to the toilet, the mechanical operation of using a bedpan was so difficult, that accidents occurred regularly. I could not be washed properly, despite their best efforts.

July 4th 1970: A Sister’s note reads: “Pressure areas are not being done by staff.” I’ve been laying on my back for four days already, and I’ve got bed sores on my heels and back, but her stern notation needs to be repeated again the next day, before I’m attended to.

I met Carole Marskell at a barbecue at my parent’s house just prior to the major hip operation.
I was on crutches; she, stunning, cascading black hair, and wearing a body-hugging, orange micro-mini dress. She was the most intoxicating woman I had ever met. She also had two children by the man she’d just walked out on.
It was love at first sight.
She was there at my bedside when I recovered from the hip operation.

For the rest of July, that year, I was thus confined to bed before the plaster was changed. It needed to be- it was soaked in blood and pus and waste.
Not even a bottle of ‘Californian Poppy’ poured down the front and back could kill the smell.
They put a new one straight back on, but at least I had been cleaned up a little, and felt clean to some extent. At that point, I was considerably brightened. For the first time in a year, I had some positives in my life. My leg would be about the same length; I’d walk relatively normally.
Just had to get through the plaster period.
However, personal complications were arising. By now, I was allowed up on crutches, and could walk the length of the ward carrying this huge plaster cast. I’d met my future wife, Carole and the love affair was blossoming. I wanted out of that hospital, wanted Carole, wanted what was left of my life back.
I was agitating for leave. They were concerned about the protocols of the healing process, without any real appreciation of where I was at emotionally, and me and those officers at the hospital were heading for a showdown.
No longer was I an obliging patient, the mindless automaton they had turned me into way back before Vietnam. I voiced my feelings. By the middle of August I was threatening to go AWOL to get to Carole.

August 22nd 1970: A Psych evaluation is done. A Dr. Purton states: “Personal problems are overwhelming.” I’ll say. I go AWOL in a taxi- still in the full body plaster. My feet are jammed up against the door, and my head sticks out the window. I meet up with Carole. The Military Police set up road blocks around Brisbane to catch me, as if I’m some escaped criminal. They arrest me in the morning. We’ve cemented our relationship. I know she’ll be there for me in days to come.
Purton again: “He is in real trouble if the arthrodesis gets infected or disturbed”, and threatens me that if I abscond from the hospital again, I’d be “tied to the bed for months.”
And risk losing the war pension they were paying me.

September 12th 1970: Another Psych evaluation: The Commanding Officer writes that I had “complained of many injustices” since my time in the hospital. While he conceded that “(my) claims could have some basis in fact, his elaboration and predicate thinking is indicative of a paranoid reaction.” In his opinion, my reaction was “…related to his prolonged period of enforced inactivity, plus a projection of hostility against authority figures onto the Army.”
Of course it was. Einstein, he wasn’t.

January 28th 1970: My time in the army is over. I’m discharged “medically unfit”. There’s no place in the army for men with disabilities. I’m uneducated. Got no skills, except for killing people.
An ambulance turns up and transports me from the Military Hospital to the Repatriation Hospital at Greenslopes. I’m now a “veteran” of the war.
As a parting gift, the Army gave me a 30-day rail pass to use anywhere in Australia. A fat lot of use it was to a man in a plaster cast. Army stupidity at its best.

April, 1970: Carole drives me ‘home’ to start a new life together- an old bus parked in a caravan park at Birkdale. It leaks. There are no flyscreens. Frogs come and go. Mosquitoes abound.
It’s a new start if nothing else.
There was only one way we could go.
Upwards.
(‘Some of the chapters of ‘The War Within’ deal with these things.)

Make no mistake, when I signed on the dotted line, back in the middle of summer of ’68, I fully expected that the Australian Army would honour its commitment to look after me if I happened to get wounded. I thought integrity was the cornerstone of our armed forces- that when it took fit, young men for its war machine, we’d receive the very best of care if we got spat out the other end.
I should’ve known better. But I was eighteen then, full of patriotic fervour and testosterone, and I would’ve believed anything if it meant getting to the war over the horizon.
I was naïve and stupid. And men who march off to war with empty-headed notions of war’s grandeur like that, are bound to be disappointed. They’re also the ones most likely to get shot. Like I did.
And there I found myself that late afternoon in July 1969, laying in the mud with my rifle lost, while the Viet Cong poured machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades into us from a bunker system.
Seemed like hours went by till others from the platoon managed to extricate us.
The air was full of red and green tracer bullets, the sickening smell of cordite hung everywhere, leaf litter exploded all around. It was all lightning and thunder and chaos.
The bullet smashed through my hip joint, and ricocheted eighteen inches down the femur. It was the most brutal of wounds. I thought I’d had my head blown off, such was the pain.
Despite the cacophony, I threw off my webbing and pulled my trousers down to my knees. A thick sausage of minced bone and sinew hung from the blackened hole in my side, cauterized.
A “homer” I thought to myself in a fleeting, rational moment. I’d be getting out of that shit-hole. And even in those seconds, I couldn’t help but think that being physically wounded put me in that rare category of men- I’d risked all for my country, taken on the enemy up close and personal, and would have the scars to prove it.
Only a small percentage of men would ever have that.
They got four of us out that night by penetrator and litter- me and Pte Johnny Walker, Pte Derek Nixon-Smith, and Cpl Andy Ochiltree.
Then, with the war behind me, the chopper flew us through the night to ‘Vampire pad’- the Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau. The hospitalization process had begun.
But if I’d thought the infantry side of things was bad, I was in for a shock.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but specialists have advised me in recent years, that I was the victim of the most negligent and insensitive medical treatment possible, profoundly affecting me for all these past four decades, and for the rest of my life.
The news reports were soft-coated for public consumption. My condition was reported as “satisfactory”.
Satisfactory to whom? Some pencil-pusher? Some officer?
“Satisfactory condition” my arse.
Whichever official handed that information out to the media should’ve spent a little time in my shoes.
A detailed analysis of my In-Patient Records and Treatment Records, recently gained under the Freedom of Information Act has been a revelation.
It was better than a diary:

July 19th 1969: The night I was wounded. The triage doctor acknowledges that I had received a “gunshot wound” while “assaulting a bunker system”, but can’t locate the bullet. I was in shock, covered in mud, shivering with cold, and nakedness. There was general chaos, as other men arrived from other units, many of them torn by shrapnel from mine explosions in the Long Hai’s.
Last thing I remember before the surgery was a doctor’s exploratory finger up my arse, trying to locate where the bullet had finished up. They don’t find it, and operate immediately.

July 20th 1969: There’s pandemonium in the ward. The Americans have landed on the moon. A doctor escaped the jubilation long enough to tell me I’d keep my leg but that I’ll never walk properly again, that I can expect to be disabled for the rest of my life. It was hard to comprehend. But I was more concerned about the wounded Viet Cong soldier allowed to wander around the ward like he owned the place. It was very disconcerting.

July 22nd 1969: After a pep-talk and thank you from my Company commander, Major Laurie Lewis, I’m loaded on board a dirty old Hercules- the Air Forces’ cargo planes- and a three-day horror trip home commences. Along with about forty other men, I’m bouncing around in the back of that thing all the way home to Australia. For men with flesh wounds, it was one thing; for those with shattered bones, altogether another. We were hooked up to catheters and urine bottles and plasma, with wax stuffed in our ears to drown out the sound of the plane’s engines.
It was the start of a realisation that we were no longer of any consequence. No longer able-bodied, no longer of use.
The trip home takes four days- via Butterworth, Darwin, Richmond, Amberley. Most of us are in a worst state when we arrive home than we were when we left Vietnam.

July 25th 1969: Army ambulances meet us on the tarmac, and we’re loaded into them. My parents have walked out onto the tarmac, but they aren’t allowed to speak to me, nor I to them. I watch them through the window of the ambulance like that haunting scene from ‘The Fountainhead’ with Gary Cooper. My mother has gone grey in the eight months I’ve been away. My father looks gaunt. For the first time it hits me how hard it must have been for parents to have your son fighting a war so far away from home. They follow me to the Military Hospital at Yeronga. It’s an hour and a half away, but when they get there, some officious bastard sends them packing. Tells them they “aren’t needed.” I’m distraught about this, and made my feelings known. I’ve got a raging temperature, I’m “shivering in severe pain and discomfort”, and I’ve just come home after almost eight months as an infantryman in a war. But I’m not allowed to speak to my mother, not allowed to have her arms around me.

July 26th 1969: An unknown doctor writes: “I suggest you watch this lad closely as his wound is of the type that may develop a chronic infection.” It’s ignored. During the next fortnight or so, I’m forced to sit in a wheelchair, walk on the shattered hip between parallel bars, and get wheelchaired to a toilet. Each action is an agony. Even a person walking down the aisle, creating the most minor of tremor, brings tears to my eyes. But nurses and orderlies are quick to tell me that the pain is ‘psychosomatic’.
No one is aware of it yet, but infection has set in, though there are continual references to it: “the dressing smelt offensive”; there was “vile-smelling ooze coming from the wound”.
A Capt. Maynard writes that he is “very worried” and that “the patient is in considerable pain.” But except for an increase in morphine (which doesn’t appear to have any effect, and was probably a placebo) my complaints about the pain continue to fall on deaf ears. Despite my temperature remaining inordinately high, day in, day out, no one yet appreciates how much the wound has deteriorated.

August 8th 1969: my father, who had the phone on, and lived just thirty or so kilometres away from the hospital at Ellen Grove, receives an ‘Urgent’ telegram from the Hospital. It reads: “Request permission to administer general anaesthetic to your son for a change of dressings and skin grafts.”
He telegraphed them back: “Permission granted.”
I’d been to a war and back, and still had no say in such things.

August 11th 1969: (fifteen days after being warned to watch for infection): Alarm bells start ringing- “Apparently no wound culture has been done.” A pathology test was undertaken immediately. The result- “profuse” infection had now invaded the wound and the hip joint. All the walking and other activity on the joint had exacerbated the potential for infection, and the joint was severely infected.
Now I’m in big trouble. Antibiotics were changed, and upgraded considerably. It’s a bit late though. I let the nursing Sisters know what I think of them

August 21st 1969: There is a simple note- “Hates all Sisters.” It wasn’t completely true, just some of them. I knew my own body, and it was obvious to me that I was being treated poorly. What the Sisters didn’t know was that my resentments were deep-seated, originating in Vietnam itself, where army stupidity had almost cost me my life on a number of occasions.
One delicious Sister gets sick of looking at my face covered in pimples and blackheads from the filth of Vietnam, and sits beside me for a couple of hours cleaning me with cotton balls soaked in alcohol. It was a rare kindness.
I fell in love with her. I was apt to do that.

September 1st 1969: (six weeks after the gunshot): A pathology test records that now there were four different infections eating away at the joint. A new regime of antibiotics is installed. I’m ordered to ‘bed rest’, as if I had anything better to do.

September 22nd 1969: The wound continues to deteriorate. Some Sisters insist that I ‘weight bear’, though the hip is clearly unable to take my weight. Still, no x-rays have been taken.

September 29th 1969: It’s been two months since I entered the hospital. Relatives and friends stop visiting. There’s a limit to people’s empathy. My leg is now about 10cm shorter than the other. I inform them that there is a discernible ‘clunk’ in the hip as I hobble between the parallel bars. They decide to take new x-rays.

September 30th 1969: There’s a simple entry on both the Doctor’s record, and the Ward Sisters Record after the x-rays. They state, rather innocuously, “It would seem that the bullet went through the femoral head, and the hip became infected.” Eleven weeks of negligent care, but it only warrants the blandest of acknowledgments that they’ve gone about it all wrong. I notice that there are serious faces around me now. There’s a lot of ‘conferencing’. Nurses and Sisters now start acting more graciously.

October 1st 1969: They place me in traction to immobilize me completely. It’s back to bed pans and piss bottles. The doctor tells me I’ll be that way for about another five months. I despair at that, and argue the toss with them. I see my life ebbing away.
Outside my bedroom window, just about every weekend it seemed, the nurses and doctors would hold barbecues. There they’d be eating and drinking and having it off in unused beds in the ward, while we young men watched our own youth drift away.
Frustration began to turn to bitterness.

October 11th 1969: There’s another party in the hospital grounds. Beautiful nurses and Sisters, all breasts and thighs, flitting about a barbecue. And then there’s us patients, staring out the window at them. Me and three other patients get drunk on Bacardi rum smuggled into the ward by my father. He used a flower vase to disguise it. All of us were in traction- the other three as a result of car accidents back here in Australia. A Sister springs us dancing in our beds. I fancied one of them. She’s furious, enraged at our stupidity. The next morning, we’re all charged with some offence, and “confined to barracks”. They also deny us our beer ration for a fortnight. Stupid bastards.

October 23rd 1969: Something major is in the air. I hear the first mention of a “hip fusion”, though another report contradicts this- apparently, another expert is of the opinion that the hip will probably “fuse by itself”.

December: 25th 1969: Christmas. I talk myself out of traction, and am allowed out on “official leave” because there’ll be hardly any nurses or Sisters around the place. I’m up on crutches, but the leg is now 20cm shorter than the other one. I’m allowed to spend time at home, where my father is charged with the responsibility for dressing the wound, four times a day. The hole in my side is still as big as half a football- full of pus and rotting flesh. He has no training in that regard, but it seems simple enough- take out the cotton-wool balls four times a day, then fill the hole up again. He does so religiously. Such sensitivity.
In this manner, these brief respites from hospital, all my leave entitlements are eaten up, including all that I’d accrued in the war.
Since I’d also missed out on the R&R leave all other soldiers got in Vietnam, I was pretty pissed off. Seemed like just another injustice.

For the next seven months, I remain on crutches. There is no physiotherapy, nor any psychotherapy- no attempt to help me come to terms with either the physical or psychological consequences of having fought in that war. My muscles waste away in the leg, and I can’t tolerate any weight-bearing of any sort.
Life is passing me by. The best years of my life are being lost forever.
I have a good talk with an officer who comes around. He said I need to get some sex.
I had a few serious girlfriends around my bedside while I was in hospital, but found I tended to gravitate towards loose women. Took a lot less work.
I figured quality women weren’t about to bother themselves with a bloke wearing a nappy on his hip. Others aren’t too fussy.
I was on a darker path of life, a real down slide.
It was like sliding down the snake on a Snakes ‘n Ladders board, and the snake was a slippery one indeed. More snakes than ladders.
But knowing it and doing something about it were two different things. I couldn’t pull myself away from it even if I’d wanted to. It had its perks.

April, 1970: Nine months have gone by. A Dr Bendeich notes that “(my) hip is as painful as ever.” He determines a further course of antibiotics should be started immediately, as a prelude to a major operation to fuse the hip altogether in two months time, but only “if the infection seems adequately controlled and quiescent then”. It’s not spelled out entirely what a ‘hip fusion’ means.

May 10th 1970: My 21st birthday has come and gone. I score some day leave and go into Brisbane to tackle the Moratorium marchers. I figure someone has to stand up for the men still up in the war, still fighting, still dying. Men like my mates from training day- Henry Stanczyk, and Peter Douglas. I wade into them, crutches and all, belting every man I can, and the big, tough unionists keep knocking me down.
That night, I wondered at how reviled we veterans of that war were. How many other wounded veterans from previous wars would be knocked down by citizens on a city street?

July 1st 1970: It’s been almost a year since I was first shot. In a ten hour operation, the diseased and shattered hip joint is removed completely. Then, a bone graft is inserted, and a pin hammered through the bone, tied by a screw. The hip is fused.
And that’s it for me.
I’m to confront the one thing I’d dreaded for almost a year- there was no coming back from that wound. Now, and for all time, I would be permanently disabled.
A male nurse told me I’d died for about thirty seconds during the operation. What’s more, the anaesthetic had worn off mid-operation. I’d felt the hammer blows as the steel rod was driven through the hip. Only, I couldn’t tell them I could feel it.
When I awoke, I was horrified to find I had been imprisoned in a full body plaster cast, from high on my chest to the toes of my right leg. I was flat on my back, vomiting over myself and unable to move in any direction. I was gripped by claustrophobia, like I was being slowly suffocated.
For days, the nausea and anxiety caused by that plaster was compounded by blood oozing from the wound, and I had to lay in it all that time, so that the plaster had turned a dirty black, from my stomach to my knee. When I needed to go to the toilet, the mechanical operation of using a bedpan was so difficult, that accidents occurred regularly. I could not be washed properly, despite their best efforts.

July 4th 1970: A Sister’s note reads: “Pressure areas are not being done by staff.” I’ve been laying on my back for four days already, and I’ve got bed sores on my heels and back, but her stern notation needs to be repeated again the next day, before I’m attended to.

I met Carole Marskell at a barbecue at my parent’s house just prior to the major hip operation.
I was on crutches; she, stunning, cascading black hair, and wearing a body-hugging, orange micro-mini dress. She was the most intoxicating woman I had ever met. She also had two children by the man she’d just walked out on.
It was love at first sight.
She was there at my bedside when I recovered from the hip operation.

For the rest of July, that year, I was thus confined to bed before the plaster was changed. It needed to be- it was soaked in blood and pus and waste.
Not even a bottle of ‘Californian Poppy’ poured down the front and back could kill the smell.
They put a new one straight back on, but at least I had been cleaned up a little, and felt clean to some extent. At that point, I was considerably brightened. For the first time in a year, I had some positives in my life. My leg would be about the same length; I’d walk relatively normally.
Just had to get through the plaster period.
However, personal complications were arising. By now, I was allowed up on crutches, and could walk the length of the ward carrying this huge plaster cast. I’d met my future wife, Carole and the love affair was blossoming. I wanted out of that hospital, wanted Carole, wanted what was left of my life back.
I was agitating for leave. They were concerned about the protocols of the healing process, without any real appreciation of where I was at emotionally, and me and those officers at the hospital were heading for a showdown.
No longer was I an obliging patient, the mindless automaton they had turned me into way back before Vietnam. I voiced my feelings. By the middle of August I was threatening to go AWOL to get to Carole.

August 22nd 1970: A Psych evaluation is done. A Dr. Purton states: “Personal problems are overwhelming.” I’ll say. I go AWOL in a taxi- still in the full body plaster. My feet are jammed up against the door, and my head sticks out the window. I meet up with Carole. The Military Police set up road blocks around Brisbane to catch me, as if I’m some escaped criminal. They arrest me in the morning. We’ve cemented our relationship. I know she’ll be there for me in days to come.
Purton again: “He is in real trouble if the arthrodesis gets infected or disturbed”, and threatens me that if I abscond from the hospital again, I’d be “tied to the bed for months.”
And risk losing the war pension they were paying me.

September 12th 1970: Another Psych evaluation: The Commanding Officer writes that I had “complained of many injustices” since my time in the hospital. While he conceded that “(my) claims could have some basis in fact, his elaboration and predicate thinking is indicative of a paranoid reaction.” In his opinion, my reaction was “…related to his prolonged period of enforced inactivity, plus a projection of hostility against authority figures onto the Army.”
Of course it was. Einstein, he wasn’t.

January 28th 1970: My time in the army is over. I’m discharged “medically unfit”. There’s no place in the army for men with disabilities. I’m uneducated. Got no skills, except for killing people.
An ambulance turns up and transports me from the Military Hospital to the Repatriation Hospital at Greenslopes. I’m now a “veteran” of the war.
As a parting gift, the Army gave me a 30-day rail pass to use anywhere in Australia. A fat lot of use it was to a man in a plaster cast. Army stupidity at its best.

April, 1970: Carole drives me ‘home’ to start a new life together- an old bus parked in a caravan park at Birkdale. It leaks. There are no flyscreens. Frogs come and go. Mosquitoes abound.
It’s a new start if nothing else.
There was only one way we could go.
Upwards.
(‘Some of the chapters of ‘The War Within’ deal with these things.)

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