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Ian Loaney

Ian Loaney

Private, Australian Army


Private Ian Anthony Loaney

8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 2792038
Rank on discharge: private

"Vietnam … I have no regrets about serving in Vietnam, just … hard lessons learned."

Ian Loaney started work as a Customs officer at the end of 1964, about the same time the Federal government announced there would be conscription for 20-year-olds commencing in 1965. Ian said, “In June 1965, Australia committed 1 Battalion to Vietnam as part of the US 173rd Airborne. They were just the opening shots, when they finished their tour, conscription had already started and I figured, that’s it.”

“My number didn't come out of the ballot, so I decided I would pursue a commission as a Reservist. I was doing my first appointment exam when I decided to go. I thought rather naively that my country needed me. So, I resigned my course for the commission, and I volunteered.”

“My parents didn't want anything to do with it. They were very staunch Labor people and were against the war. I was under 21 and my mother said, ‘I won't sign for you.’ I'd already done the research; the Act basically said that if you're old enough to go, you're old enough to make your own decision. So I did. I fell out greatly with my parents over that.”

“Anyway, in 1969 I went to Vietnam as a private soldier. I was very happy and very proud to go to the 8th Battalion. I always thought that if you’re going to be a soldier then be in the fighting arm. What’s the point of being in the Army and playing the flute in the music corps, you know. It was either infantry, armour, or artillery.”

“The role of the 8th Battalion was basically to keep the peace in Phuoc Tuy Province. We were all infantry soldiers trained to seize and hold ground in any weather and on any terrain.”

“My boots on the first day in Vietnam were prepared and polished, or not so much polished as preserved. Those GP boots were the best bloody boots that I ever had. I always kept my boots in pretty good nick, because the last thing you want is to be out in the scrub and have your boots fall apart. And you use wool socks and look after your feet.”

“There were two seasons in Vietnam. The wet season when there’s mud and crap and you’re wet a lot of the time, and the dry season when it is very dry and you're always short of water. With both seasons, you get skin problems, when your back gets all salty from the sweat. I was an infantry signaller, so for the first four months, I shared a PRC-25 radio set as well as my gear and the spare batteries were like half a brick.”

“The first time I was in a contact, I was with a rifle company. I was a number two signaller and that was the first time I'd ever heard fire. The first thing I thought of was, ‘where’s my mother?’”

“A fellow who had served in 5 Battalion told me something happens to you when you have your first contact in Vietnam. He said that your fingernails turn into tungsten steel, and you hit the deck and you find that you are 20 millimetres below your shadow. That was true. It was instinct. We were also told that if anything happens to you, you’re going to be on the operating table in an hour. That gives you an enormous amount of confidence, ill-founded perhaps.”

“The battalion was pretty good at ambushes. The Australians had been with the Brits in Malaya and understood counter insurgency. You were on their territory and basically, you were fighting on their terms. When the Viet Cong operated by night, you operated by night. If you’re out in the scrub all night, you can't move, you can't have a pee. You have to have patience, but the VC had even more patience, they hung around till 1975. They were very smart, and they were worthy and clever adversaries. So you had an uphill battle.”

“It would have been a hell of a lot worse if we hadn't had the technology we had, if we hadn't had the Huey helicopters, tracks and artillery. Then we’d have been behind the eight ball.”

“When you got to go down to Vung Tau as a shotgun on a laundry run you could do some trade on the black market. Some of the American equipment was just so bloody good you had to have it. The Alice Pack with the aluminium frame and big bum pack that you put a radio set on, that was the cat’s pyjamas, and you could get that on the black market.”

“The American ponchos, the water just drained off them, and they had the hole for your head and kept the radio and all your gear dry. And the American BDUs (battle dress utilities) were ripstop, and you could get them wet and they dried quickly, and they had great big bellows pockets in them. We weren’t allowed to wear the American tunic top, but those pants were the thing.”

“I went on loan as a relay to an American fire base in April 1970. I had two weeks there and the trading was terrific. Couple of pairs of pants for a pair of Australian boots? No problem. It was like Wall Street. And those Americans were so generous, if you needed equipment, they would get it for you easy. They would ask for little things in return that they couldn’t get, like a hat or a regiment badge.”

Ian said in Vietnam there were two incidents that left an incredibly deep impression on him. “I had had a falling out with the company commander, so on 16 February I was transferred out of the company as a number two signaller back to our fire support base as a forward control operator. Twelve days later, on 28 February, that company went into a minefield and nine young men died in half an hour.”

“I never forgave the company commander for that, because on that day I should have been there. I’d been with that company since we'd finished training and commenced exercises and I knew most of those fellas, I'd been drinking with them in the bar. That was a real tough thing for me.”

“The other incident was in April, when a sergeant, who I'd known before I went into the Army, was badly injured with a piece of shrapnel in his head. They took him to Long Binh hospital, but he didn’t come out alive. I started to have a bit of a different view of things from then on.”