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Bernard Fitzpatrick

Bernard Fitzpatrick

Private, Australian Army


Private Bernard William Fitzpatrick

9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 2788689
Rank on discharge: private

"I carried 'The Gun'. The M-60, a belt-fed machinegun, and 600 rounds, which is more than average. ’Cause we ran out a couple of times. It’s not fun, running out of ammunition.

Now, the M-60 comes with a spare barrel, because if you’re in a long fight the barrel gets red hot and you’ve gotta switch it. We’re hitting bunkers and you gotta put a lot of rounds down.

My number 2 gunner said, 'We’ve never used that bloody spare barrel. How about we dump it and carry a couple extra hundred rounds?'

I said, 'Yeah, no problem.'

The next contact, the barrel snapped. I asked for a new barrel, and they sent an entirely new gun. Not a new one, but a secondhand one. Anyway, [on] our next contact, I went to lay down rounds and it fired one round. When they put this thing back together, they put the firing piston in front to back.

It was a single-shot machine-gun."

Bernie Fitzpatrick was a platoon section commander in the CMF (Citizen Military Forces). Bernie registered for National Service and missed out. He said, “I ended up as a volunteer Nasho, and you'd be surprised how many of them there were. I wanted to go in as National Service and do whatever they did.”

“In recruit training we got three choices for the corps we wanted. I thought I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t go to Infantry, seeing as I volunteered. So, my three choices were: infantry, infantry, and infantry.’ They were just forming the 9th Battalion. They said, ‘If you go infantry, you’ll go to 9 RAR, and you’ll be in Vietnam in 12 months.’ And, I said, ‘Thank you very much, that’s me.’ I think there were about 400 Nashos in the 9th Battalion.”

“We trained over the next eight months and left for Vietnam in November 1968. They sent us to the Flinders Rangers in South Australia for training in the middle of winter. It was minus 10°C. People got frostbite and your water bottles froze. Then they put us on a Hercules and sent us up to Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, so we went from the fridge to the oven. Just before we went to Vietnam, we did one- or two-months jungle training at Canungra. So, I think we were fairly fit when we went over on HMAS Sydney.”

“Then we ended up over there, and I think we spent over 80 per cent of our time in country on operations. We lost 35 killed and 200 wounded, although there are some discrepancies on the number wounded. We were operating in areas with a lot of bunkers. In one operation, Operation Goodwood, the Australian unit, not just our battalion, came in contact with over 2,000 bunkers. Not all of them were occupied, but enough.”

“We patrolled for up to eight weeks. You went out with five days’ rations and theoretically you were resupplied every five days. And for the seven or so weeks you’d wear the same clothes, no wash, no whatever. The shirts got ripped going through the bamboo, and you could get another shirt or pair of trousers or pair of boots. You could ask for them and they would send them out with the next resupply.”

“At one stage we worked with the Yanks and their tanks. They had stacks of food and they let us take whatever we liked. The American food was far better. And I offered them some of ours. The Yank said, ‘I don’t know what you're complaining about, that was a bloody good meal.’ I said, ‘That's a day's rations, not a meal.’”

“Because I was a gunner, I carried the M-60 and 600 rounds, that’s more than average because it’s no fun running out of ammunition. And I carried probably seven or eight water bottles because I drank a lot of water. When they resupplied, they resupplied four bottles per person. So, you’d fill them up if you went past a creek. To purify the water, you had a little white tablet plus a little blue tablet to take away the taste of the white tablet. But there was nothing to take away the taste of the blue tablet.”

“We were lucky in 9 RAR because we had that eight-months’ training together. In South Australia, we'd go out for a week or so and do exactly what we’d do in Vietnam. We were doing operations, so when we got to Vietnam the only difference was someone was shooting at us. So, I think we were fairly well trained. I think the reos (replacements) had it hard when they first arrived.”

“Everyone had a nickname. My number two on the machine gun at one stage was Alan Cunningham, and he wasn’t called Cunningham from the day dot. He was ‘Sneaky Pig’; ‘Sneaky’ for ‘Cunning’, and ‘Pig’ for ‘ham’. They dropped the ‘Pig’ off and it was ‘Sneaky’. He’s still called Sneaky to this day.”

“We came into our harbour position one night and the enemy were out there waiting for us. Four RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) hit a metre or so above me within about four seconds. I was wounded and Sneaky was wounded; the other bloke wasn’t because he fell underneath us. I said to Sneaky, ‘Give us another 100-rounds’, and he said, ‘My arm doesn’t work.’ I said, ‘That’s why you were born with two, use your other arm and get out.’ Anyway, he was shot in the arm.”

“Now Sneaky played baseball for Australia. He was a pitcher. And for 30 years I’m telling this story about a mate of mine in the Army who played baseball for Australia, who got shot in the arm and there goes his baseball career. And one time I’m telling this story, and Sneaky was there. And he said, ‘Nah. I was shot in the other arm. I gave up baseball because I got too old.’”

“I remember coming back from operations, you’d come in and you’re sort of exhausted. You sit down on your cot and put the gun down, and then I think your brain says, ‘You’re safe.’ Your body is tense and then ‘Pfffft’, your brain says, you’re safe now, just relax.” The best way I can describe it is, it’s like letting the air out of a balloon.”

“When we came back from being out bush, we got stacks of letters, and fruitcake. Eight weeks out, that would be four fruitcakes. Four in a tent, that’s sixteen fruitcakes and fruitcake fights. They did taste alright though after you’d been eating out of a tin for a while.”

“We came back from an op once, and we were told there was a general coming to visit. They said you can’t have any pictures of ladies up around your tent or anything. So, we took those down, and we cut men out of magazines, and we stuck them up. Anyway, he came through my tent and Stevie Grunt, our pet pig was there.”

“We had a pig, a monkey, and a dog. Now the dog was just a normal pet. The pig thought he was a dog. And the monkey used to drink with us at night. We used to feed him a bit of beer in a bottle top. So, the general went back and he sent a communique that the diggers were not allowed to have pets. So, we shot the dog, hid the monkey because he was one of us, and barbecued the pig. A lot of blokes wouldn’t eat him. They said it was cannibalism eating a friend. But after living on tin food for 12 months, fresh barbecue!”

“I thought, how stupid that Army officer was to say that the diggers couldn't have pets. When we came back from patrol, it made us relax a bit. Now the DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs) is giving carer dogs to people that have PTSD and such.”

“I flew home from Vietnam in November 1969. An advance party had arrived from the other battalion, and they filled those planes up to come home. Our boss said any of the original 9 RAR should be on the planes to go home. All the rest came home by boat. We went to Tan Son Nhut and got on the Qantas plane. We were belting down the runway, and then we were thrown forward in the seat, reverse thrusters, brakes on … and the pilot says, ‘I do apologise. We nearly ran over a fully loaded Phantom Bomber.’ In Saigon in those days a plane took off every 20 seconds, and this bloke came in early in front of us.”

“When I got home, I only had four days left in the Army, and my job was guaranteed because I worked for government. So, I’m back in my job as a maintenance fitter and we’re at morning tea, and a mate throws an orange peel at me. I had a bolt in my hand, and I threw it straight past his head. He said, ‘Bernie, why'd you do that?’ I said, ‘Do yourself a favour. Don't throw things at me.’ Four days out of the jungle and within a week you're back at work. It was wrong.”

“Dumping you back into civilian life after a week, that was not good. I was fortunate where I worked, four of the guys I did my trade with went to Vietnam. In my street at home too, about five went to Vietnam. There’s family, Army, and then there’s the friends you’ve known all your life.”

“The parade crowds at the Anzac Day March, I think they're very respectful of veterans, but I don't think they understand why. And I don't want them to know why. Who'd want them to know what you went through. I was diagnosed with acute PTSD war caused. The psychiatrist told me I remember too much. She said after 30 years, you should not know in detail what you’re knowing.”

“There is a saying, ‘To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavour that the protected will never know.’ In other words, if you were home, you’ll never understand. Although, I think the next of kin at home, need to be told more. If you’ve been there, it’s there, in your mind. But the next of kin don’t have that.”