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Jack Lake

Jack Lake

Warrant Officer Class 2, Australian Army


Warrant Officer Class 2 Jack William Lake

Australian Army Training Team Vietnam; 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 213825
Rank on discharge: warrant officer class 2

"Most soldiers of the Aust Task Force in Nui Dat only had contact with the Vietnamese people either as the VC, the enemy, on operations, or down in Vung Tau whilst on “in country” R&C.

Some people would get the wrong impression of the Vietnamese in general. So, prior to leaving for R&C I would remind my company these people live here all the time.

“You do your six to 12 months and you go home. But for them, this IS home. They’re just trying to get by. They’re trying to live from one day to the other.”

Vietnam back then was a very poor country. I saw people living in concrete culvert pipes, anywhere they could, any way they could. I’m still connected with the Vietnamese community here. They’re great people."

Jack Lake was 25 when he first went to Vietnam. He said, “I’d just come home from Malaya and couldn’t handle soldiering in Australia. I applied to go on the Training Team and was sent to Canungra for the Tropical Advisors’ Course. On the third day, I broke my ankle. It was only a very minor break, but I couldn't finish the course. I did all the theory, but I didn't do the physical.”

Jack said, “At the end of the course, I fronted up to the senior instructor and he said, ‘You didn't finish but we're passing you anyway. You go to Vietnam in three weeks.’ I was on crutches at this stage.”

Jack arrived in Tra Bong in September 1966 and spent six months in US Army Special Forces A Camp then six months with the ARVN Rangers, the light infantry of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

“When I found out I was going to the Rangers, I wasn't jump qualified. So, I went into the Special Forces C team Danang and did some jumps with the Nungs and the Vietnamese, who were mostly Montagnards. We were using T-10 parachutes, the big Second World War chutes made for Americans and all their gear, so the little Vietnamese would take ages to come down.”

“Tra Bong was a village of 400 or 500 people, and at a rough guess probably 10 percent were active VC and probably 20 percent were swingers. Tra Bong was never overrun while I was there, but two or three times later on.”

“A camp was fortified. It had an inner compound where only the Americans were allowed, and an outer perimeter with petroleum gel buried in the approaches as well as Claymores and mines. They also had this massive blockhouse about 15 feet high with walls of thick concrete and a slot either side. The only way to get in was up underneath. It didn't have much foundation and was starting to tilt during the monsoons.”

He recalls the countryside around Military Region 1 Corp. “It was lovely green country because it was monsoonal with big plains up and down. But from the air you could see bomb craters and artillery craters pock-marked everywhere.”

“It was a real experience with the Rangers. We trained them and we also went out on operations with them. It showed you had enough fortitude to go out and face the music like they had to every day. They were good troops. If they were led properly and looked after and fed, they would fight.”

Jack recalls having one big stoush. “We were on our way down Highway One when one of the Rangers in a nearby Regional Forces outpost got knocked off. The enemy were waiting for a reaction force to come out, but they didn't expect the whole Ranger Group. We hooked in there all day along with Air and Arty support. On the follow-up the next day, we counted 240 NVA dead.”

“Because I served with the Vietnamese, I had a lot of feeling for them. I still do because they did it hard. Vietnam was a really poor country then. They were living in whatever they could, even big concrete pipes.”

Jack described another time when he was in the valley with the CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defence Group) at Tra Bong. He said, “We got a message to proceed to the top of the ridge and wait for further orders. So, we were all lying on top of this ridge, and we heard a thunderous roar and the ground shook. It was a B-52 raid down in the next valley.”

Jack said, “It took us a day and a half to get down there because the CIDG didn’t want to go. When we got to the bottom there were these massive great bomb craters and round them were fresh tracks in the dust. But what they’d done, they’d flooded the whole area prior to bombing with these leaflets. On one side was a picture of a B-52 with all the bombs spewing out, and on the other side in Vietnamese it said, ‘we are going to bomb this area, leave!’ The whole operation was a waste of time and effort.”

Jack felt that his time in Tra Bong was an achievement. “I didn't do any training. I used to take the CIDG out on operations and the Montagnards. That’s probably why I got posted back as the CSM. Career wise, it was a good move.”

“A lot of the countries in Asia probably would've fallen into Communism if it hadn't been for the involvement in Vietnam,” said Jack. “Well, that's the official line and I agree with it. Maybe it just makes me feel better. I don't know. I lost a fair few mates in Vietnam. I think we should have been there, tactics might have been different, but that's hindsight. Hindsight's a wonderful thing.”