TUESDAY 18 August marked Vietnam Veterans Day, an occasion commemorating those who served and died in the Vietnam War.
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One such man is James Fitzsimon, now of Tea Gardens, who fought in Vietnam with the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) from 1967 to 1968.
James joined the army in February 1965, aged 19, completing basic training at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga, and graduating from the training program ranked number one in his platoon.
During his time at Kapooka, James was encouraged to apply for Officer Cadet School.
After twelve months of further officer training, James became a Platoon Commander to 7RAR, based at Puckapunyal.
In April 1967, James and 7RAR travelled to Vietnam to begin their tour of duty.
“We did a number of different operations; in those days they were called search and destroy missions,” said James.
One such operation involved the removal of cluster bomb units, planted through the Vietnamese jungle by the Viet Cong.
“They are about grenade size and are supposed to go off when pressure is applied, with ball bearings going everywhere. They were using them as mines. They would dig a hole, put the thing upside down in there with the pressure plate on the top,” said James.
“We found that they were mining around the area, once we discovered how they were doing it, we were able to pull them out of the ground safely.
The engineers tested them and told us it would only take a ten-pound weight to set them off. The explosion would blow your foot off,” he said.
James was then involved in the now infamous Tet Offensive in 1968, a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts.
“There was an American base north of us called Bien Hoa, and the commander of that corp asked for two of our battalions to go up and provide a blocking force to troops coming from Cambodia.
I was one of the junior officers. The night of Tet, they opened up on everyone. Artillery and rockets and everything going on. They didn’t know that there were two battalions in their way. Eventually they were repulsed from Bien Hoa.”
James left Vietnam in April 1968 after twelve months. Upon his return to Australia, James continued his career with the military in a variety of roles, before retiring as a Major aged 43 to pursue a career as a civilian.
James keeps in contact with the remaining members of 7RAR, who meet for a reunion every three years in various venues around the country.
The Battalion are fondly known in military circles as ‘The Pigs.’
“7 RAR are known as the Pig Battalion. The battalion was newly formed at the time,” said James.
“There was a big night had in the canteen at Puckapunyel. The next day the commanding officer did an inspection of the area and found it knee deep in bottles.
“He pulled everyone together and said, ‘Your nothing but a mob of pigs.’ Some clown up the back, who we have never identified, said ‘Oink, oink.’
“The rest is history and we are very proud of that name.”
By Doug CONNOR