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Michael McCoy

Michael McCoy

Corporal, Australian Army


(Temporary) Corporal Michael Joseph McCoy

Official Duty (from Eastern Command Personnel Depot), Australian Army
Service number: 2792059
Rank on discharge: corporal

"I used to go over to Vietnam every five or six weeks. I would land, get a pistol in Saigon, and I’d spend a week moving from Saigon to Vung Tau to Nui Dat on my own. I would process the pay and leave forms for the guys going back to Australia, so they could go straight out the door when they got back. I’ve been told that I don’t qualify for benefits as a Vietnam veteran, since my entire unit didn’t go; that, technically, I’m only a “visitor”.

That was a helluva visit."


Michael McCoy was aware of Vietnam because of National Service. “I got called up, I passed the health test, and that’s how I got in the Army,” Michael said. “I didn't believe that we should be there, but I had no choice, I would've ended up in jail.”

Before his call up, Michael was working in the Commonwealth Bank head office. “I was a cadet on a five-year training program,” he said. “I did one year then I had the two years in the Army, which interrupted my career.”

Michael had recruit training in Singleton and RAASC Corps training in Puckapunyal, which he reckons was “one of the worst places in Australia.” After six months’ training he was posted to Eastern Command Personnel Depot at Watsons Bay.

“At Watsons Bay they were in charge of moving personnel around. If you were going to Vietnam and you weren’t going on a Navy ship, you came through Watsons Bay and went to Vietnam that way. It was a discharge centre too.”

“They had what they called Return to Australia reps who went to Vietnam to interview the people coming back about their leave and pay. They would send sergeants to do the job, but they didn’t have enough with clerical experience,” Michael said. “So, after six months in the administrative office and pay office, they made me and another bloke temporary corporals, and we did some of those trips. I did about seven trips to Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.”

“There was a Qantas flight that went up every Tuesday and then come back with the people returning to Australia. On the way there you had to go via Darwin. You couldn't fly directly into Saigon, you had to wait for clearance.”

“We’d arrive in Saigon, and everyone would go to their various units. I had to go to headquarters and get issued with a firearm. It was very hot and on the first trip you didn’t know what was happening or where you were going. The next trip was a lot easier.”

“I had to travel to Vung Tau which was the R&C base near the beach, and then up to the main Task Force base at Nui Dat, and then come back to Saigon. I’d interview all the people coming back to fix up their leave and their pay.”

Michael would see about 120-150 soldiers in a week. “Most of them were there for a year. There were some regular soldiers coming back, but a lot were National Service.”

“I’d fly back with them on the Qantas flight the next week. When we arrived at Mascot, I handed over all the paperwork. The pay office was out there with the exact money they needed because I’d prepared them.”

“When people got off the plane, they already had their leave pass. So, they collected their pay and went on leave. It was efficient, believe it or not,” Michael said. “Most of them were never coming back to the Army because they were National Service and had completed their two years.”

Michael said, “One time they didn't have any accommodation for me in Saigon, so they put me up in a hotel. I had to stay there by myself, and they suggested I keep my firearm close by. I had to walk back to headquarters. That was not exactly a pleasant situation. We know now there were probably more Viet Cong in Saigon than a lot of other places.”

All told, Michael spent about 60 or 70 days in Vietnam.  He said, “I probably saw more of Vietnam than some of the people who were posted to Saigon. They probably never got to Nui Dat. It was all just dust and dirt. Vung Tau was very nice and there was a big French influence, so that was actually quite pretty. But, in Nui Dat they were stuck in the middle of the bush and a lot of people didn't want to be there. Saigon wasn’t a pretty place either, I didn’t think.”

Michael said the soldiers he interviewed seemed “simply very happy they were coming back,” but, “when you came back, it was as if Vietnam never existed. The Australian population didn't really want to have anything to do with Vietnam. And most of those people that did their two years in the Army, probably didn't want to do it.”

“When I went back to work after two years, there was not one person there that said, ‘Thanks for your two years.’ You just went back into the office, and it was not even acknowledged. I’m not the only one who said that.”