W3 Company - Service Stories
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The Rear Party - Peter Henderson 3Pl
After the main body of W3 departed a small group of soldiers remained behind to finish demolishing the tent lines. They were commanded by Sgt Harry Hemana and comprised soldiers who needed a short period of time to qualify for the SVN medal. Peter Henderson was in the party, other names are sought.
One unusual aspect of the group was that they were unarmed, the CQMS having withdrawn their weapons as part of the overall packing up process of the main body. A selection of photos of the group and the lines as they were left by the group are shown below:
Sgt Hemana in centre [Henderson]
W3 lines ammo bunker [Henderson]
abandoned Officers/SNCO mess tent [Henderson]
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Casualty of the Fire Fight in the W3 Cookhouse - Dave Gundersen 1Pl
Historically the wastage in an army among soldiers on operations caused by sickness and injury is always greater than its combat losses; in Vietnam the Americans identified that disease accounted for 70.6% of all hospital admissions with the remaining divided between battlefield casualties [15.6%] and non-battlefield injuries like traffic accidents and equipment failures [13.8%]. I was in the 13.8%.
In early March 1970 myself and Les Nissan were tasked with early morning cookhouse fatigues. Being diligent I noticed the flame of the immersion water heater positioned on the outside porch of the cookhouse had gone out. Unbeknown to me it had been out for some time causing a build-up of diesel fumes. When I lit a piece of newspaper to relight the burner the diesel fumes exploded in my face and instantly I was blinded by the explosion. I was fortunate that Capt Jim Brown our Coy 2IC had great reflexes and immediately pushed my head into a nearby tub of cold water.
I was transported in the Coy Landrover to the Australian 8th Field Ambulance lines in Nui Dat where they immediately dusted me off to the 1st Australian Field hospital (1AFH) in Vung Tau. There they treated me like any other casualty, cutting all my clothing off then loading me into another helicopter for a short flight. I was totally confused, not having a clue where I was or what was happening. I later found out I was in the US Army 3rd Field Hospital (3USAFH) in Saigon and under the care of an eye specialist. I was operated on to remove the soot from the diesel that had got behind my eyeballs. I also lost the remains of my moustache, eye lashes and eyebrows. Afterwards my face was completely bandaged, meaning I could not see and suffering the odd panic attack because of the uncertainty about damage to my eyes. After a few days the bandages were removed and to my relief I still had vision.
It was a shock to see the horrific wounds of US servicemen in the hospital. The American soldier in the next bed to me had bought a bottle of soft drink from a roadside vendor which contained powdered glass and had dire consequences when he consumed the drink. Another sight which has never left my mind is of a large negro soldier sitting in a wheel chair, torso only, no legs or arms. Horrific sight. But there were moments of humour as I was almost lucky enough to be presented with a Purple Heart. A high ranking American officer was going around the wards pinning Purple Hearts on the pyjamas of wounded American serviceman. When he got to my bed he was about to pin a Purple Heart on my pyjama’s, when someone alerted him that I was not an American Serviceman. Unlucky me!!
When it was time for me to be discharged, I told the staff that I had no clothing. No one from HQ NZ Vietnam Force Saigon had visited me, they may not have even known I was a patient. The Americans were very generous and I was sent to the hospital Quartermaster Store who kitted me out with an all-American uniform, boots, the works. Next stop was Tan Son Nhut airport to catch a plane to Vung Tau. Their choice for the trip was an American Caribou aircraft which stopped at a number of outback dirt airfields on the long way round to Vung Tau. I recollect this aircraft had a number of bullet holes in its fuselage, not that we were shot at during my flight.
On arrival at Vung Tau I had to report to 1AFH again. The reception staff had a big issue with the lone Kiwi in an American uniform, no ID apart from my dog tags trying to convince them I deserved to be there and who I was. I finally got admitted for assessment. Like at 3USAFH the scene in the ward at Vung Tau was very sobering as I was mixed in with real battle casualties. It was after V4 Coy has an intense contact in the Nui Dinh Hills on 19 March resulting in a KIA (Mo Paenga) and a number of other WIA who were in the ward recovering. I can recall Sgt Tom Tuhiwai (later awarded the DCM for bravery during the contact) being in the bed beside mine.
I can recall a funny incident during my stay in 1AFH. A soldier had been circumcised and needed to avoid an erection to prevent the stitches being broken so he was provided a cold spray to use should he become aroused. Which he frequently was, every time a female sister or nurse walked into the ward all you could hear was the sound of a spray can being emptied on his penis.
I was finally discharged from hospital and sent over to the Peter Badcoe Club for convalescence. Here Lt Bob Upton arrived to see me as he was conducting an inquiry into the incident that caused the injury to my eyes. On completion of convalescence I returned to W3 Coy and resumed normal duties. I remain ever thankful for the quick actions of Capt Jim Brown who most likely saved my eyesight from serious injury, today I enjoy good vision.
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