Vietnam - A Human View
Reviewed Jun 2011.
The military is based on getting soldiers to respond when needed and work together. That’s all very well when troops are under orders and are doing what they’re trained for. But what about 40 years on, and when they’re doing something outside most soldiers’ comfort zone?
Not a problem, Victor 4 Company will tell you. The unit – which was together in Vietnam in 1969-70 – has produced a book on its activities and experiences. It was launched in April during a company reunion at Paihia
A Soldier’s View of the Vietnam War takes in the company’s full life – from its formation in May 1969 to its return to New Zealand and disbandment in may 1970. It covers training at Burnham and in Malaysia, action in Vietnam, and post-Vietnam (six months in Singapore, the return and reception at home, the Agent Orange debate, and the government’s parliamentary apology).
And, unlike most of military history, it has been written by the soldiers themselves. Many of those involved in the company have written about their war experiences – in their own way, based on their own thoughts, from their own perspective. Some had to confide in their mates to ensure accuracy – not easy after 42 years.
Those who were killed are acknowledged too – through contributions from their families and by soldiers who were close to them. Victor 4 veteran Geoff Dixon, who is part of the editorial committee, says all but one fronted with their words, even if some were on scraps of paper. The exception was an ex-soldier in South Westland, who had to be interviewed by phone. No internet in the bush.
“The soldiers tell it as they saw it, there’s no PC here,” says Dixon.
It all began with an idea from a Victor 4 Co soldier, Pv Bill Te Awa (aka Bulldog), and his brother, Manu, who works for Huia Publishing in Wellington. They organised funding and support through First Sovereign Trust. The editorial committee was formed, they set about getting the stories, and met frequently at the Papakura RSA.
Dixon and all those involved are adamant they are not out to celebrate or glorify war. “We wanted to tell our kids and our grandchildren about what we went through, to put it on record that this is what we did.
“Like most of the guys in our generation, I had a father and an uncle who served in World War 2; but they never spoke of it to us kids. This was the norm for their generation. Sadly we will never know of their experiences.”
The book may well open a few eyes and raise a few eyebrows amongst other vets and the general public.
“We talk about the sad and the difficult times, the funny things, about how hard we worked and how hard we played. Our tents and barracks, how primitive the cookhouse was. But that was our life at that time as young men on an adventure...like the many soldiers, men and women, who venture before us in every theatre of war.”
It is, he says, a human view of events, and people’s reaction to them:” It’s history as those of us involved saw it and experienced it.” * A Soldier’s View of the Vietnam War is hard-cover book containing 335 pages and 232 photographs. It can be ordered on line (www. asoldiersview.co.nz) for $69.95 (plus packaging and postage).