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Gregory Rogers

Gregory Rogers

Corporal, Australian Army


Signalman Gregory Edward Rogers

110 Signal Squadron, Australian Army
Service number: 218099
Rank on discharge: corporal

"For me, coming back to Australia was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. We flew back into Sydney at midnight on a 707, and I’m trying to get a taxi, but none … would take me out to Manly, it was too far out in those days. Here I am, in this city that is filled with this eerie silence, and I’d just come from all these sounds of war. It was really disturbing.

I finally got home to my mum, and she didn’t know I was coming because you weren’t allowed to advise your movements. I bought a a car and a motorbike and then went AWOL. I got in disciplinary trouble for desertion, [and was] sentenced to Holsworthy Military Correction Centre where the commandant enquired what my problem was. I said, “I just don’t fit in here, anymore, really.” He says, “What do you want to do, then?”

I said, “I wanna go back to Vietnam where I was happy.”

I received a redeployment posting back to Vietnam two weeks later."

Greg Rogers is a fourth-generation serviceman. “My great-grandfather was a training officer in the artillery at Middle Head, a 20-year veteran, and it sort of carried on from there. I never really anticipated joining the Army. I was a 4th-year electronics apprentice, but I failed my second last year and dropped out,” Greg said. “I realised I’d disappointed my parents, so when I saw an ad for tradesmen in the Army, I applied. Being under 21 my father had to sign the papers, which my mother never forgave him for.”

“So, I managed to get into electronics in the Army. I did two years’ training, and I was posted to a Field Force Unit in Victoria as an electronics technician in a radio relay detachment. It was 1969 and Vietnam was in its prime time. We all applied to go there because it was part of why you joined the Army.”

“After about 12 months in the unit, I followed my mates to Vietnam. I was 21 by then,” Greg said. “When I landed in Tan Son Nhut Airport with my buddies on the Qantas 707, I walked down the stairs, and it was just ‘poof’ the heat and the smell. They gave us sandwiches before we got on the Hercules down to Vung Tau. The Vietnamese workers were rummaging through the garbage looking for the scraps; that was life for them.”

“I was posted to the Field Force Unit deployment troop, a ready reaction unit. We had about 20 personnel based in Vung Tau, but we were mostly detached. We had outstations at Nui Dat 1ATF, the Horseshoe Fire Support Base, Long Binh, and Saigon. We also went out to the Fire Support Bases with brigade (Task Force) and battalion deployments, setting up in fields and digging in trenches, the usual thing.”

“Our troop was on a six-week rotation in signals. We were virtually field force in a static unit. Our field installations were quite technically advanced. They were big vehicle-mounted installations with two or three vehicles. We’d put up a big antenna array, probably 40 metres high, in the line of sight back to ATF headquarters.”

“My first detachment was at ‘the Hill’ at Nui Dat and I spent a bit of time at the Horseshoe in rotation. We used to do 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Nobody knew where we were because we were semi-autonomous. We’d lob into Long Binh and just walk off the airstrip and get picked up by the American diggers and we would hang around the messes up there, as Aussies, swapping slouch hats and GP boots for something a bit more material. It was great.”

“We all had to do gun pits and night shifts, which was pretty scary. My most life-changing experience was on a night shift. We slept in the communications shelter because it had fans and was cooler in there – it was only about 100 degrees. At one in the morning on 4 January 1970, we were woken by incoming mortar fire. Being signals, you’ve got the antenna up and you’re a prime target. The VC knew they had less than two minutes to lob in their rounds before the artillery got a grid reference to return fire.”

“Anyway, it was getting louder and louder and closer and closer, and we were quivering in our boots. We thought the next one was coming for us. Then it stopped, but not before a mortar exploded outside the transmitter shelter and peppered the whole inside of the communications setup.” Greg said, “The next day we just got on with it again.”

Greg did 12 months of rotations through the communications depots, mostly in the field. But he said coming back to Australia was the worst part of the experience. “We came in at 12 o'clock at night on a Qantas 707 because they didn't want to attract anti-Vietnam protesters to the airport. We got demobbed, paid off four weeks, and went to get a cab to go home. No debriefing, nothing. I lived in Manly and none of the cabs wanted to go there.”

“The city closed down at 10 o'clock and it was dead quiet, just this eerie silence. You’ve come from the sounds of war around you – from noise to this anechoic environment – it was very disturbing.” 

“I finally got home to mum. And it was so quiet at home I couldn't sleep. Within a few days I’d squandered all my money on a car and a motorbike, and at nighttime, after the TV had finished, I’d get in my car and drive till almost daytime. That’s what I did most days.”

“After that I was reposted to Ingleburn, but I went AWOL. I handed myself in and I got a few charges. This went on for quite a while. I’d go to camp for a few weeks and then I’d go AWOL for seven days, a fortnight. I became an administrative nightmare.  The last time, I went for a month, which usually means immediate discharge, but they sent me to Holsworthy military prison.”

“The Commandant there said, ‘What’s your problem?’ I said, ‘I just don't fit in here anymore. I don’t feel like I belong here.’”

“I used to sit in the main street of Manly. I’d sit outside the pub drinking and waiting for somebody to say hello, and they never did. Even my old friends were alien to me. The conversations were totally different to what I was expecting, I just didn't have any empathy with them anymore. People didn’t understand my headspace, I was very alone.”

“So, when the Commandant asked me what I wanted to do, I said, ‘I want to go back to Vietnam.’ So, two weeks after I got out of Holsworthy, I had a posting back to Vietnam. And I was happy.”

Greg went back to Vietnam in August 1971. “I was part of the withdrawal then. They had pulled most of the Field Force Units back to Vung Tau. They gave me the night shift as the technician on the switchboards, which was great. I felt not relaxed but more comfortable in that environment.”

“Of course, I had to come home to it all again. But I was lucky because a lot of my mates who were in Vietnam at the same time, went back to the same unit. I had this little enclave of guys, and it was okay, I blended back into civilian life.”

Throughout his Army career, Greg had a series of encounters with an Army cook named Frank. “When I was in electronics training at Balcombe in Victoria, there was a cook in the mess hall who every now and then, would run around the kitchen screaming. We were young lads, and we all just thought ‘silly old Frank, he’s off his perch again.”

“When I came back from Vietnam, Frank was the cook in my unit. I was a bit older of course, and there’s old Frank still running around the kitchen doing his strange antics. Later I got posted to Wallgrove and lo and behold, there’s Frank in the kitchen still doing the same thing.”

Greg said, “It wasn’t till later on that I found out that Frank was a Korean War veteran, and he had stepped on a landmine that didn’t go off. It hurt me that I’d thought of him as weird old Frank when really he had a history of PTSD. The mine didn’t go off, but he went off himself. Frank never married. He had his own little barrack room at Wallgrove, and he had old black and white photo pinups like Betty Grable. That was his world, he never moved on from that time.”

“Back in civilian life, I had a lot of jobs mostly technically oriented. And I’d be driving around in my company car and all of a sudden, I’d get this impetus to start putting things down on paper, my Vietnam experiences. I got to a stage where I’d just pull over and write another sentence.”

“Frank the cook was pivotal to why I did it. I realised where Frank was and where I was. I didn’t step on a land mine, but I went through this experience and writing it down was my way of dealing with it and moving on. The Horseshoe, the mortars, the Kiwi who got injured in the mortar explosion … “

“I was up at Tan Son Nhut Airport one day and I saw a Chinook helicopter landing from a conflict somewhere. And the US medics were bringing out the dead from the back, and it was just body bags and body bags and blood. Realising that these boys were going home in body bags to some mum or wife, that was very confronting to me. I passed over it then, but looking back on it and writing it down was another vivid memory.”

“My writing was like a letter to my kids, to tell them I was sorry for not being the father they expected me to be. After I finished the prose, I printed 20 copies off, and I put it all behind me.”

Greg said, “I enjoyed my tour. That's why I wanted to go back. I just felt comfortable. That's a hard thing to say, considering the psychological damage you’re looking at later in life.”

“The Welcome Home Parade wasn’t a welcome home for me, it was just a gathering of old comrades, a chance to reunite with old unit buddies. I felt it was too late. A good mate of mine, Tony, died from encephalitis in 1972, the year he came back. I was very close to him. We went to radio school together and we were in the same unit in Vietnam. We came home at different times, but we were buddies, virtually brothers.”

“In the mid-eighties Tony’s mother asked me if I could take his daughter, who he never met, on Anzac Day. I took her along. That was the first time I went on Anzac Day, but I've marched every year since. I do it for myself now, but I marched for many years in Tony’s memory. When I’m marching in the unit, it still draws me to tears.”