Andrew Forsdike joined the Regular Army when he was 17. And the moment he turned 19 he was told “pack your bags you’re going to Vietnam.” Andrew arrived in Vietnam on 8 May 1968. He was 19 and two weeks and a lance bombardier with one stripe. Four days later he was sent to Fire Support Base Coral.
“When we landed at Coral, the RSM said ‘Bombardier, take the M60 and put it on the bend there near the rubber plantation and take Gunner Hundt with you. Earlier I'd asked the sergeant if he’d test fired the M60. He said, ‘Yes, she's working like a beauty’.”
Andy Forsdike and Mal Hundt set up the M60 and three men were sent up to protect the gun. Andy said, “At about 10 o'clock I saw something coming down the track towards me. A flare went off and I could see about 30 silhouettes. I got on the landline to the 2IC, and I said, ‘Sir, I think I've got North Vietnamese coming down the track towards me, I need permission to fire’. He said, ‘Hold fire bombardier, it’s friendly.’”
“Anyway, at about two o'clock a red flare went up, followed by a green flare, and all hell broke loose with mortars and rockets. Everybody went to ground, even the North Vietnamese disappeared. Then it stopped and we were sitting there wondering where everyone had gone.”
“They had set up a box that started firing little rockets right over our heads. You could feel the heat off the back of them. And then the North Vietnamese who we'd seen earlier all stood up. Some of them were that close in front of us. I fired a burst of three rounds and hit the first bloke and I think it went through and hit the second bloke too.”
“I got three rounds out of the M60 and then it jammed. They were all around us. Sawtell was killed. Scotty was killed, and Vic Page got hit in the back when they started throwing grenades. I got the SLR, but we had run out of ammunition. Then I only had the 9mm pistol.”
Andy Forsdike, Mal Hundt and Vic Page survived the battle. Mal ended up with six bullets in him, three from friendly fire. Andy got struck by a bullet, but luckily a Parker Pen case took the brunt of the blow.
Andy said, “I had all my webbing on, but the bullet just went straight through my backpack. One of my pens was in bits and pieces. I sent it back to my fiancé who was working at a newsagent and had given me the pen. She showed the Parker guy and he wanted to display it.”
The day after Coral, Andy was promoted to full bombardier. Two weeks’ later when they needed a mine and boobytrap guy he was promoted again. “They said ‘We can't give him another stripe but how about we give him the higher duty allowance pay of sergeant?’”
Andy spent 10 months in Vietnam from May 1968 to March 1969. He got paid as a sergeant for his time in Vietnam and for another 12 months after he returned to Australia. “I did pretty well out of that side of it,” he said.
One of Andy’s jobs was collecting the ammo from RHQ store and delivering it to the headquarter battery. “The blokes would come and see me, one at a time every half-hour for about three weeks and I’d resupply them with ammo. They were a good bunch of guys,” he said.
Another of his jobs was unit fire NCO at Nui Dat base. “That was a good job. I had to make sure all the buckets were full of water, and I had blokes filling sandbags. You’d see guys sitting down when they should be filling sandbags, but I let them be because it was stinking hot.”
“Sometimes I’d ask one of them to come with me to Vung Tau. They’d jump at that.” Andy said, “I’d go once every fortnight. We’d leave at eight in the morning and come back at three in the afternoon. I’d be sitting in the back of the convoy with the M60. The BSM would let ten guys go down to Vungers for the day, have a swim, shop, whatever, and come back.”
Andy was engaged just before he went over to Vietnam. “I just wanted to get home,” he said. “So, I didn’t do much in the actual lines, but I was always on the go. Sometimes I’d ride shotgun with the laundry down to Baria, or I’d take blokes down to the range on the other side of SAS Hill and teach them how to use the thumper – the M79 grenade launcher. We’d just fire off all the old, rusted ammo.”
Andy had to go on a couple of TAOR patrols or overnight ambushes. He said, “I've never been so scared in all my life. I hadn’t learned how to do them, but they took me out and told me what to do. I ended up having to take a few patrols out myself. The artillery guys had to do them because they wanted their guys doing something else.”
When they were short of Military Police, Andy was sent to Saigon for two weeks to man the machine gun at the Free World Military Forces building. “That was good, I had the day off and I could go to the markets, go wherever I liked,” he said. “At night I had to man the M60 with two other blokes. I’d normally put them on and just walk around. If something happened, I’d just have to race back.”
Andy has vivid memories of the rain in Vietnam. He said, “It absolutely bucketed down. You couldn’t see from here to the other side of the road. All the pits filled up with water and then it was clear and then the heat would come again.”
He also remembers the spectacle of the Douglas AC-47 Spooky. “I think the greatest thing I saw was when they were bringing in Puff the Magic Dragon. They put one round every yard for the length and width of a football field. We had blokes there and he came right round in front of them and didn’t hit any of our guys. They were spot on. What a sight.”
“Puff the Magic Dragon and Splintex saved us at 102 Battery when there were three enemy waves coming towards us. They dropped the front guns and loaded them with HE, but they went straight through, then they started with the Splintex. Well, it just mowed them down, but they still got over their guns. Those blokes fought brilliant. They were farmers, bank clerks … a lot of very brave men. I think there were more Nashos than us.”
“The 102 Battery dug a big hole for the bodies and covered them with lime, then covered them over and planted some wild dandelions. The North Vietnamese had a lot of respect for Australians because of the way we treated their dead,” Andy said.
Andy returned to Australia on a Qantas flight in March 1969. He said, “I must have been in uniform because I remember having the medals on. The RP Sergeant told me not to wear uniform on leave, because that was when the protests were really bad.”
Andy said he didn’t mind it over in Vietnam. “I rather liked it. If we hadn’t gone to Coral, it would’ve been a breeze.”
TAOR - A tactical area of responsibility is a specific area in a combat zone assigned to a unit commander. The commander is responsible for installations, tactical operations, area defence, support coordination and conducting patrols in that area.
Discover more stories of Vietnam War veterans at the Stories of the Dat Do Dogs photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 1 March 2024