Digging up the past. Changing course for the future.
We hear lots of fantastic stories from our tour participants at Boronia Travel, but we really wanted to share this particular one about one of our recent tour participants, Derek Smith from Townsville. Derek served in Vietnam, but what led him back many years later and the great work he now does for the local villages is really fascinating. It really is a lovely story and we’re grateful viagra sans ordonnance
that we can share it with our newsletter community. So without further ado, here is his Derek’s Slab Story…
"I was posted to Vietnam in January 1971 – my third time over and second posting to this particular unit - as Chief Clerk and Troop Sergeant HQ Troop of 1st Field Squadron Group, Royal Australian Engineers. I shared a tent (pictured) with the head cook, Sergeant Don Treen. We reckon there are two seasons in Vietnam; hot and wet then hot and dry. In the ‘wet’ the ground is a quagmire. One wades through mud to get from point A to point B. It is like taking a stroll through a swimming pool of treacle. Then in the ‘dry’ that mud becomes fine red dust that penetrates everything. Don and I constructed a slab of cement at the entrance to out tent as a means of scraping the mud off our boots to avoid traipsing the goo into our living room such as it was. And as you do, we etched our names and date into the wet cement.
In October 1971, most of our Unit withdrew from Nui Dat down to Vung Tau then sailed back to Australia on HMAS Sydney.
Then in 1994 a chap from Melbourne took a group of Legacy members and Vietnam veterans on a tour to Vietnam including Long Tan and Nui Dat. He literally stumbled over a solid object in the long grass and on clearing the grass, found our slab (pictured). He took photos of the slab and some of the local village people. He then contacted Central Army Records Office (CARO) to try to identify whose names were etched in the slab. CARO wrote to me asking for my permission to pass on my address which I gave. He then wrote and told me of his find, also sending photos.
In 1999, my wife Rhonda convinced me that we should visit Vietnam and see the slab. So armed with an old patrol map and the photos sent to us in 1994, we went along for the ride. We found Luscombe Airfield and headed to the
southern end where
my map indicated we should go to find our old 1 Field Squadron location. Our guide was not familiar with the area but we met a young lad named Tau (pictured with my son Mike), age 12 then and riding a push bike without a seat – ouch! He knew where we wanted to get to so guided us to the site.
One has to imagine the conversation between the old villagers and our guide. The guide showed them the photos we had taken, probably telling them that this mad Aussie was looking for a piece of concrete. The old folk got really excited. As you can see, it is them in the 1994 photo. It did not take long before we were surrounded with locals and duly taken to the slab.
I met Tau’s family on a later visit. They had a house just off Luscombe Airfield. Tau’s Dad had been a chemist and his Mum was a nurse, both with the Viet Cong D445 regiment; our enemies
during the war. Again through an interpreter we had an amazing
conversation. I gave the Dad a Rising Sun badge and he gave me a Viet Cong medal he had been awarded for fighting Australians (pictured). I still have that medal. It was a great ‘bridge building’ moment.
It was in 2004 that I began to support orphanages. Seeing the poverty in the villages was a powerful motivator to lend a hand. A friend of my two sons was doing volunteer work in orphanages Kon Tum, Vietnam. She had been there for three years then moved to Cambodia so I decided to pick up where she left off. My first trip to Kon Tum was in 2007 and along with my family and other helpers, and I have been going every year since then. In 2012, we had to take a lad from the orphanage to see a heart specialist in Ho Chi Minh City. We took a side trip while there to visit the slab and Long Tan. It was a part of their country’s history they did not know about so it was worth while doing."
Article written by Derek Smith
. Derek and his wife Rhonda have recently returned from Vietnam where they we saw completion of two major projects; a village well where for the first time the Montagnard villagers have clean drinking water, and the completion of a dining room at one of the orphanages.
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