CLOSE LEASHED - Cont.
If they were going to be allowed to move on
unmolested, then it was important these people
did not see the platoon. It would not be the
first time 'Victor Charlie' had used such
apparent innocents to flush a patrol so as to
arrange a more effective reception committee!
Further up the track.
This was a standard tactic for the North
Vietnamese Army when dealing with the big beefy
American 'Capitalist Pig Dog soldiers'. However
both the NVA and the VC were to find this was a
very different foe, the 'Running Dogs' did not
give away their position so easily. It would
prove to be rare indeed for the VC to see or
hear the 'Uc dai Loi' (Australian) soldiers in
the field. Being extremely difficult to predict
their movements, it was therefore impossible for
them to lay effective ambushes against them.
This, and a reluctance to ever move out from
under their accurate and efficient umbrella of
artillery, meant only the dumb eternal patience
of the hidden mine or booby trap, was to prove a
tactic effective at ambushing the Uc dai loi .
Now less than 50 metres away as she passed by he
could plainly see her wide conical straw hat or
'Non La' held by a flat silk strap under the
chin. This ultra light universal south Asian hat
was admirably suited for the purpose, being wide
enough to keep both the sun off and the face and
dry in the heaviest of monsoon rains; it could
also serve as a fan or a basket.
Non La is the quintessential image of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese say that while you hold it, you
hold a part of their homeland in your heart. In
the years to come it could form part of a
montage of images that would drift oft times
uninvited, unexpected, through the ether of his
mind. Something as a simple as a lamp shade
could bring back rows of black clad figures bent
under their cream coloured straw hats. Again he
would see them knee deep in the mud leaning
forward to their labour, leaving perfectly
spaced rice green pattern across the paddy
fields, the sing song voice of Vietnam would
come drifting out of the heat haze. They are
images that probably go back 3,000 years to the
twilight of civilised humanity.
He reflected on how the village girls always
look so clean! Unlike him, 18 days in the field
soaking wet every day until he could hardly
smell anything but himself, it was amazing she
could not detect him, even now, as she passed.
How did they manage? Most of the villages were
poor ― thatched huts and dirt floors,
well-water, a long hard pull with bucket and
rope. Many of the village women were quite
attractive, could sing beautifully, they were
gentle, feminine and graceful in their
As the first girl moved past the second followed
each shuffling step giving a hint of pale skin
above her rippling black cotton trousers.
Younger than the first, her hat slung onto her
back, a thin yellow ribbon holding her long
black maiden's hair in a tight bun behind the
neck. They shuffled on unconcerned, unaware,
oblivious to the fact that death hovered but a
finger's distance away.
Moving with that same busy and familiar bent
knee bouncing gate, arms braced above the
balance pole ... they went on, unknowing,
unmolested ... their lives intact
His thoughts drifted back to a recent village
cordon where he had watched three young
Montagnard girls pole grinding grain in a stone
quern. The Montagnards are the Aboriginal people
of Vietnam. Small in stature, they were tough,
brave and immensely resilient. For hundreds and
perhaps even thousands of years hidden in their
mountain jungle fastness, they survived
competition from waves of invading tribes out of
southern China. All the while fighting nature in
the form of typhoons that often came crashing
into their forest home, out of the South China
The girls had kept perfect time. Their ancient
rhythmic musical chant and the dull triple thump
used to time their strike had distracted him
until eye contact with the 'skipper'
(Lieutenant) had brought him quickly back to the
war. How sobering to think these same small slim
girls when recruited by the VC were often used
as scouts ... they could kill in an instant!
Minutes have passed... the faint muffled sound
of their rubber thongs, had faded away only the
strange pulsing rhythm of Asian cicadas now gave
comfort as they sent their message through the
sticky humid air. He turned his head to make eye
contact once again with the section commander,
and got the signal to move on ― an open hand
held vertically before the face, with an axe
chopping motion indicating the required bearing
The two women never knew they were being
observed by the Uc dai Loi. Though technically
they were within the Free Fire Zone, the
platoon's priority that day was to get to Binh
Ba as soon as possible.
Being in the FFZ, they were indeed in great
danger but fate had given them their best chance
for survival. For the truth is the soldiers of
the RAR were always held 'close leashed' by the
highest degree of professional leadership and
decency, and it is this above all "that
guarantees the chain of strict discipline."
Through the heat haze down along the creek
line, gum trees stir to the promise of a cooling
sea breeze. He lifts the can to his mouth, but
the beer is warm. At his feet frantic ants surge
along the grooves of the sun baked white Cyprus
floorboards of his father's bush hut veranda. He
sees a dusty white ute has pulled up at the
gate, the driver waves, it's 1993. For some, war
The incident above was related to the author by
a soldier who served in the 5th Battalion and
wishes to stay unanimous. I have left out and
changed some details in order to respect this.
Incidents such as the above were not unusual and
every combat soldier who served can relate
similar incidents as they happened almost on a
The goal of the Task Force was to win the
people. Whenever possible the RAR always tried
to give the benefit of doubt. We maintained our
humanity despite the knowledge that information
regarding our position and direction might then
be forwarded to the enemy, and within hours be
used to set mines, booby traps, and/or ambush
There is no bitterness evident today in the
heart of the Vietnamese people for those they
referred to as the Uc dai loi soldiers. They, at
least have always known he was not the mindless
killer portrayed by political interests that
manipulated the Australian media during the war.
In this pursuit of their own political
interests, they showed a criminal disregard for
the long term damage it might do to the pride
and self esteem of the nation's armed forces.
They encouraged their fellow Australians to
focus their rapidly increasing disaffection with
the war on the ordinary soldier. To hold him in
contempt for the nationís decision to enter the
war ― a decision in which in truth ― he had no
It was not the soldiers who had dishonoured the
spirit of the Anzac's, it was they who ignored
the maxim ― 'Truth is first casualty of war'.