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Roderick Stewart

Roderick Stewart

Major, Australian Army



Captain Roderick Wilson Stewart

1st Field Squadron, Australian Army
Service number: 235156
Rank on discharge: major

"I remember we were having lunch one day, and there was an American Green Beret major there. He was a pretty good soldier. And I said that to him once, and he said, “I damn well oughta be. Outta my original draft of a hundred that came here, 98 have gone home in aluminium boxes.”

This young American captain who’d just arrived, he said to this major, “I’ve been here all of three weeks, and I haven’t seen a Viet Cong yet.”

With that, the major downed his tools, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out onto the busy street outside. He said, “There you are, thousands of ’em.”"

In 1964 Rod Stewart was in Borneo recceing the route for a road near the Indonesian border for the 21st British Army Division. He said, “We were doing one or two week patrols along the line of the road we were building. We had four Australians with SLR rifles and four Dyaks with blowpipes. We’d been doing this for this for some time, then quite suddenly I was called to FARELF (Far East Land Forces) in Singapore.”

“So, I got myself down to the main airport and flew over to Singapore and reported to FARELF. They said, you are going to Vietnam, you’ll be leaving tomorrow on Pan Am, and when you get there, you’re to report to Colonel Lloyd of AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam), and two gunners are going with you, Simon Hearder and Ernie Jacobs.”

“We went out to the airport the next day, and the flight had been cancelled. The Pan Am crews were all on strike. We spent a few days kicking around Singapore waiting for the strike to end, and they organised for us to go by Air Vietnam. We landed at Tan Son Nhut and were taken to Colonel Lloyd who said, ‘You are going to MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and they'll decide what to do with you.’”

“I’d been to Borneo, and I’d been to New Guinea for two years, so I had virtually three solid years living in a high-humidity high-temperature environment. Vietnam, I suppose was hot and humid, but it was more civilised or something. Tan Son Nhut was like every other airport, but when you actually went into Saigon it made Kuala Lumpur look like a bit of a bush town. And you had those beautiful girls in their ao dai (traditional dress) pedaling along on their bicycles, and all that sort of thing. It was fairly different to what we'd experienced.”

“We went round to MACV, and the first thing they wanted was to change our uniform. We were to wear American uniforms. When we got to Borneo, the British Army made us change from our Australian uniform into Brit uniform. And we get to Vietnam, and we've got a third uniform. We were issued with a full set of kit: shirts, trousers, socks, boots, helmets and a .30 Carbine. Their guys had the Armalite AR-15, and we had a peashooter.”

“They arranged for us to go to the 21st ARVN Division (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) in the Delta. There was a bit of symmetry there; we came from 21st British Army Division to go to 21st ARVN Division. Anyway, their headquarters was in a place called My Tho down by the Mekong River. We flew down there and reported in, and they said they’d send us around different parts of the operation they were conducting down in the Delta.”

“I was assigned to Captain Bill Montell from the US Army Chemical Corps. No prizes for guessing what he was involved with. Bill was my guide and leader and mentor, while we were there. Ernie and Simon were assigned other guys, and we’d go off and do our separate things and come back together every now and again.”

“My Tho was the home port for a helicopter gunship unit, run by this Texan captain. He was a great guy, and we became good friends. He was the only guy I've ever seen with a business card with a skull and crossbones on the front side and the motto, ‘Have slick will travel.’ The Huey was called the slick. One day he said, ‘I'm short a door gunner. Today you're gonna become a door gunner. You sit in the door of the Huey and fire a .50 calibre machine gun.’ So off we went. It wasn’t very pleasant.”

“Another experience that sticks in my mind, we were in the Plain of Jars area that borders Cambodia. The area is flat-as, there is almost nothing. We were flying in there on a Caribou and the guy next to me warned me the pilot would make an approach like a Stuka (dive bomber).  And he did. He came down in an almost vertical dive, and he didn't pull out at quite the right moment. We hit the ground, bounced into the air, hit the ground again, and then the Caribou went into the bush. It was an eventful arrival.”

“A lot of things that were happening with the Americans from MACV were evidence they'd been trained for the European sort of war, with warfronts and flanks with the baddies over that side and the goodies over this side. And they were struggling with the concept of having them all around.”

“I remember having lunch one day at the My Tho Mess Association's Headquarters with a major who I’d become quite pally with. And this young American captain who'd just arrived said, ‘I've been here three weeks and I haven't seen a Viet Cong yet.’ With that, the major grabbed him and dragged him outside. He said, ‘There you are, thousands of the bastards.’ It was market day in My Tho and the whole place was full of people. Shortly after two guys were killed in the market. A young boy, about eight or ten years, had gone into the market with a hand grenade, pulled the pin out, and slipped it into one of the guy's pockets.”

“Where the operation was in My Tho they were in a seminary. And there was an American major who took us around.  He said, ‘This is your tent and that’s your weapon pit over there. And at Stand-To you’ve gotta be in your weapon pit.” I said, ‘No, mate, we're not gonna be in the weapon pit.’ The wall was five metres away and about three metres high, so guys could stand beside the wall and lob hand grenades into us, and they’d know exactly where we were. He said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said, ‘These girls you employ here, I bet they work for the Viet Cong in their spare time.’

“One day we were doing a foot patrol in the bush around Sa Dec, one of the MACV guys, myself and about 20 ARVN. And I could hear this noise getting louder and louder. And I thought there was something familiar about this noise, but it wasn't clear enough. Then we emerged out of the bush into a clearing about 500 metres wide, everything flattened. And there were bulldozers and trucks running around, and a European bloke in a pair of grey slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt. So, I marched over and started asking all sorts of questions. He was an engineer, and he was building an airstrip. I said, ‘Doesn’t Charlie give you a problem?’ And he said, ‘Why should he, we’re building the airstrip for him.’ He had no uniform and no weapons, and none of the guys who worked for him did either, so they were obviously non-combatant. He said when the sun set, they’d go into the local town. They came back at daylight; they wouldn’t venture around there at night.”

“So, we had these sorts of experiences, and then as suddenly as it started, we were hoicked out of the bush and into Saigon and thanked for our services. We were only in Vietnam for a few weeks. I tried to check it in my Army service record but strangely enough it’s not there, but I got the medal, so somebody recognised it.”