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The Beaumarks Tour Vietnam!
by: John Strange, WS LM-37
© 2003

Armed Forces Overseas Fund"(AFOF) & The "Returned Soldier's League"
(RSL) in Australia (Similar to the USO)
The Beaumarks! Armed Forces Overseas Fund (AFOF) & The Returned Soldier's League(RSL) in Australia (Similar to the USO).
The Beaumarks Drums Con Cockino's Sign, courtesy of Con Cockinos Show Group Management
For Photo Captions, place cursor on the image

Vietnam changed my life as it did anyone who went there.
I am still reminded of it every day.
My name is John Strange( AKA strangles) and I completed five tours of Vietnam as an entertainer.
Altogether, I sent approx. three years "in-country" in total. This is my story.

Vietnam Christmas - 1965

In this day and age I feel I could be addicted to Vietnam.

I log onto Vietnam sites of a day and I’m always looking for new sites or checking updates. I read books and keep my eye out for things pertaining to the war, and love conversing with Vets and other entertainers who were there, and understand. People who were involved just know and there is an understanding and kinship. It seems like I’m thinking about Vietnam, and my time there, constantly.

It may have been triggered off by my first Christmas there and my first Christmas away from my family and home, and the feeling it gave to be able to give back to the people that were there for all of us.

We were the first official Australian entertainers to go to Vietnam to entertain our armed forces and were sponsored by the R.S.L. (Returned Soldiers League). I traveled as a young bloke of twenty, and was overwhelmed by the adventure, the excitement and the experience of not only entertaining our own troops, but performing for Americans as well. It never occurred to me that my parents were horrified at the thought of their son going into a war zone or that I would be in any danger.

I had my twenty-first birthday in Saigon and I had a great time. We worked a club on the eve of my birthday and invited a whole bunch of people home to the villa where we stayed downtown, in one of the suburbs. We had a great party, champagne and the works. No official stuff, just a good slap-up party. Slept most of the next day then got up, and did it all again. So, in reality, I had two twenty first birthdays, and for me, they were really great and a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until quite sometime later in my life that it dawned on me that I had robbed my parents of my twenty-first. I know now, as a parent, that one of my life’s goals is to be with my daughter on her twenty-first birthday. I wonder what my parents were thinking on 11/12/65 while I was in Saigon having a great time. It’s something that I can never give back to them.

I woke up on the morning of Christmas Day, 1965, and I felt pretty terrible. It was my first Christmas away from my parents and home, and I felt very very melancholy.

“What in the bloody hell am I doing here?” was on my mind. It was the little boy coming out in me and it didn’t feel too good. It was the first realisation I had of what I had taken on and what I was doing, and at that point in time, it left me in the doldrums.

There were three shows organized for that day: two at Biên Hòa and one at Vung Tau. Three shows in a day is normally a tough call, but this day looked like being the toughest and I felt unsure.

As I showered, shaved and had some breakfast, things were pretty quite in the villa and maybe the other guys had similar thoughts and feelings. I had all my things ready to go when the Aussie military blokes arrived (Pick-Up as we called it) to escort us to Biên Hòa.

The first Aussie bloke I bumped into as he came into the house, immediately shook my hand and thanked me. I was taken aback when he said, “Thanks for giving up your Christmas to be here with us.” That continued all day. All these guys coming up and thanking me and shaking my hand.

We had three great shows with Don Lane, Lucky Starr, Lyn Flecture and a bunch of others. Everything went great especially when we joined the officers and served the enlisted men Christmas lunch. We learnt that it is an Australian military Christmas tradition and we had a great time joining in.

It turned out to be a fantastic day and the best Christmas I’ve ever had. From being down in the dumps first thing in the morning, to being on top of the world for the rest of the day, was just great.

Maybe, this is one of the reasons I’m addicted!

Vietnam changed my life as it did anyone who went there. I am still reminded of it every day. My name is John Strange( AKA strangles) and I completed five tours of Vietnam as an entertainer. I arrived 30th November, 1965 and spent my last day "in-country" on 17th December, 1969. Altogether, I sent approx. three years "in-country" in total.

I was not with any unit as I was a civilian entertainer. I was originally sent to Nam through the "Armed Forces Overseas Fund"(AFOF) & The "Returned Soldier's League" (RSL) in Australia. Similar to the USO.

I have the "Logistics Support Medal" (Photo, Left).I was a member of "The Beaumarks". The first official Australian entertainers to be VVMC: Logistics Support Medalsponsored by the Return Soldiers League and travel to Vietnam to entertain our troops in 1965. I completed five tours with five different shows leaving Vietnam in December 1969. We performed in all over Vietnam from the delta to the DMZ doing shows in clubs, on the back of trucks, in hospitals, on boats & ships, on hospital ships, at fire bases, in stand down areas and anywhere we could set our gear up.

Photo: Medals and Ribbons earned by VLSM member: The Vietnam Logistic and Support Medal (VLSM) was established on 24 February 1993, in order to extend recognition to persons who rendered service in support of the Australian Armed Forces in operations in Vietnam between 29 May 1964 to 27 January 1973, but who did not qualify for the Vietnam Medal. It is also ranked with war medals.

The Rex to Dang Dung

Taxi Drivers and Cycelo Boys I was a 20 year old when I first went to Vietnam in 1965 and was pretty much a stereo type of young bloke at that age.Wide eyed at the wonders of the world and full of adventure and bravado.

The first gig we had was working on the roof of the Rex Hotel BOQ for the Yanks in downtown Saigon. We had been housed in a villa at Dang Dung (the street name district 1) with another Australian band, The Rajahs. It was about 3 or 4 miles from the Rex in Saigon's suburbs.

We would usually get to the gig under our own steam depending what we had been up to during the day but getting home was a different matter. A curfew at midnight meant everyone had to be off the streets so it was essential we all got home after the gig. Maybe a quick Bud and then downstairs to the street to round up three motorized cycloes.

Motorized cycloes in those days had a well worn seat similar to a two seater lounge chair with a two-stroke motor scooter behind and a driver perched on top. Sitting in the seat out front, always felt dangerous as it seemed you were being propelled through the traffic out in the open with no protection, taking your life into your own hands. And you were!

At this point in time, inflation had not hit Vietnam and the normal cost of a motorized cyclo ride between the Rex and Dang Dung was the equivalent of about 20 to 30 cents.

We would round up three cycloes and offer the first one to reach Dang Dung the equivalent of $5, and the others would be paid nothing. This would normally take quite a bit of broken English, some French, some Vietnamese and a lot of sign language to get the message across, but the thought of a $5 fare at the end of the night usually had the desired effect. A bloody good quick ride home was assured for us all.

We would hop aboard with two in each cycle and take off. The ride never ceased to be exhilarating to say the least and possibly the best ride I've ever had in anything at any cost. You had to hang on for grim death for fear of hitting something or falling out as the driver swerved in and out of any traffic, pushbikes, pedestrians, motor bikes, horse drawn carts, cars, taxis, other cyclos or anything else that was on the street and in the way.White knuckles and wind swept hair were the norm and quite often a scream, a yell to the other participants or a whoopee of sheer terror or excitement would add to the overall effect.

We usually arrived at the villa with almost a dead heat and all would just about fall out of the cyclos laughing at the release of making it home alive. Most times the drivers were well rewarded for the ride of a lifetime and everyone ended the trip very happy.

In 1965, the war was not the only dangerous thing in Saigon! It was "Every Man For Himself" and anyone who has been to Saigon would be aware of the footpath vendors that sell various things like individual cigarettes. The taxi drivers and cycelo boys can only afford to buy one at a time so these guys are on most corners. The rumor was about that the Viet Cong was loading up the little blue and yellow Renault taxi cabs with plastic explosives and when they managed to get some GIs aboard, they would abandon the car and set off the bomb.

The word about was to never stay in a cab without the driver. I and two of the other guys in the band were off somewhere one day when the taxi pulled up at a set of lights, and the taxi driver jumped out. In mid sentence we all bolted from the cab as a natural reaction to self preservation. The taxi driver went to a vendor and bought a cigarette and jumped back in the driver's seat. We all sprung back into the cab ... the lights changed ... and we took off and continued our conversation, hardly missing a beat.

It was not till we had gone down the road a ways that we realized what had taken place and all broke up laughing. Self preservation came natural after being " in-country" for a while.

Australia House, Đà Nẵng

I would think all nationalities do it, but being away from home for so long we tended to gravitate to other Australians. We talked the same lingo and it felt great to be with some other Aussies, especially if a few beers were involved.

As to the USAF, Security Police. I crossed paths with them, but the memory is not that good to pinpoint when and where. I do have another good recollection of AF Security Police guys stopping me and three others heading towards Đà Nẵng Air Base, drunk as skunks, to watch the fireworks as the fuel dump was being hit late one night. When I get the time I'll put it down and get it off to you.

One place we frequented in Đà Nẵng was Australia House. There were always Australian Warrant Officers passing through and it was great to have a standing invitation to their bar to share a few cans of “Fosters”. One good thing about being in Vietnam was that you meet some great people and experience things that you would never have the opportunity to have happen to you anywhere else.

A drummer mate, Col, from another show related a story about and Australian Warrant Office, Dave Dermity, that was stationed in Đà Nẵng as an adviser, teaching the ARVN troops to parachute jump out of helicopters. Dave was a beaut bloke and came to many of our shows and hung around a lot with us when he had some down time.

He had even offered to let me jump out of a chopper as long as I was willing to have him show me how. He said that if he could teach to ARVN blokes to jump in an hour so it would take me about 20 minutes to learn.

Any way, Dave and the drummer mate, Col, were in a club out near China Beach having a few beers and a bit of a chinwag and the siren went off.

Dave yelled at Col, “Follow me”! and was off out the door. Col ran behind Dave and naturally enough thought that the best and safest place to be if there was an attack, was with an Australian Warrant Officer.

It was dark in the compound and there was quite a bit of movement with everybody scurrying about with Dave and Col in the middle of them. Col not knowing where anything was or where they were going, doing his best to keep up with Dave as they ran in and out of a hooch grabbing two weapons and some ammunition as they went. Col kept running behind Dave and seemed to be heading away from the activity into the bush and finally stopped when they jumped into a bit of a sand hole. Col was puffing and panting from the run but as they settled down in the dirt, he noticed that the lights were about 20 yards behind them and here he was with Dave Dermity, looking over a dirt mound at the perimeter, a barbed wire fence.

Dave turned to Col and pointed at the fence saying, “These bastards are going to come in here tonight and they are going to come in through that hole in the fence over there, and we’re going to get ourselves a couple!”

Col’s state of mind at that particular point in time turned from feeling quite safe being with Dave to one of sheer terror. It certainly didn’t help Col’s nerves any when a deep male voice yelled from back at the buildings, “Dermity. Dermity. Is that you out there Dermity you silly bastard, Get back here! Dermity. Dermity. Get back here now.”

Fortunately for Col, no VC came through the wire that night and they didn’t get ‘em selves a couple. Both he and Dave Dermity lived to tell the tale and returned to the bar and continued with their beers.

Bob & I test firing an M2.We put on quite a few shows there when the time was right and when a few of the blokes were in town. Australia Day was a must as I think they brought the blokes in from what they were doing for a bit of a “Get-Together” on that special day. Sometimes we would go around there for a bar-b-q or quite often, we would just drop by for a few beers with the guys at the bar.

For a while in 1969, I didn’t live too far from Australia House and it became the norm to wander home on foot at all hours, after the bar had closed, even though there was a curfew after midnight. It never concerned me too much and I got in the habit of walking up the centre of the street, right out in the open so I was quite visible. With a sandbag enclosure on most corners, I didn’t want to startle anyone or have them think that I was sneaking up on them. There was no traffic and no one else about so I felt quite safe and generally in an intoxicated, euphoric state of mind.

That was until on the way home one night, I was staggering up the centre of the street as usual, and whoever was in the sandbag enclosure, cocked his rifle. That distinctive sound catches your attention at the best of times but in the early hours of the morning on a deserted Đà Nẵng street, I think it was the loudest sound that I’ve ever heard.

My body immediately straightened as I threw my arms into the air and called, "Uc Dai Loi. Uc Dai Loi”! (This was the Vietnamese expression for AUSTRALIAN, AUSTRALIAN) And brother, did I try to make it clear right then and there, that I was an Australian. I had another Vietnamese expression up my sleeve and that was, “Toi di va nyah.” I believe the loose translation of this was, “I’m going to my place”. Rest assured, I wanted whoever had cocked his weapon to know that I was an Australian and I was going home and I surrender and meant no harm to any one with my hands in the air.

There was no response. Not a word or sound. To this day I do not know if the bloke that cocked his rifle awoke to see me in the middle of the road and it was a reaction of his to cock the gun or that he had been watching me tread the same path many times and thought he would give me a wake-up!

After the initial reaction on my part, I recovered enough and my heart started to get back to normal. I started to edge my way along the street and continue my trek home to 1b Quang Trung, our house. Not another sound came from the sandbag enclosure.

I often think back and wonder, was this some Vietnamese with a warped sense of humour that thought he would scare Christ out of me? Was he asleep and awoke to find me in the middle of the road and cocked the gun as a normal reaction? Was he tired of watching this inebriated Uc DI Lai stagger home and thought he would smarten me up? Whatever he was and whatever his motive, I never found out, and rest assured, I never went home from Australia House that way after curfew again.

Tet Offensive 1968

Photo: Performing with Barbara Virgil, 1968. That's me on the right.
Barbara Virgil, 1968Quin Nhon. Bobby: Nardine, Barbara & John. September 1967. Barbara could sing but a shame she couldn't dance.
(Unknown girl in poster behind Nardine's head)

Visas were a problem while touring Vietnam and the only way to continue to tour was to bend the rules. This was the 'norm' and everyone played the game. We were forced to leave the country every three months to renew our tourist visas, which I'm sure was a real pain and expense for the agents. I had visa trips to Hong Kong, Manila, Penang, Bangkok and Singapore. All places several times.

We came unstuck when Bob Leppard and I overstayed our visas while working with The Barbara Virgil Show early 1968. We left Saigon OK with no hassles except they stamped our passport "NEVER TO RETURN". When we went to the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok, they refused us another reentry visa. We talked and argued and made all the excuses we could think of and persisted until they finally agreed that if we could get a Thai businessperson to go guarantor for us, they might give us our visas. We had a week to accomplish this, and failed. Everyone we approached was OK until we mentioned Vietnam. Then they would back out.

In desperation, we went back to the embassy without a guarantor to try and talk our way into them giving us our visas, regardless. When we approached the counter there was a different person from the previous week on duty and he went through the procedure of issuing us with fresh visas then and there, without us saying much at all. He didn't see the red stamp, NEVER TO RETURN!. We got our visas! When we left the Vietnamese Embassy, Bobby and I skipped down the road. How lucky were we? That visa opened an experience of a lifetime for both of us.

We flew out of Bangkok that evening and landed in Saigon at about 9:00 p.m. That was the last commercial flight into Saigon as that night the s*** hit the fan with the 1968 Tet Offensive. Bob and I were stuck in the Diplomat Hotel in Saigon for five days while the war raged on around us.

Saigon 1966. Looking back at the audience from the stageThe Diplomat Hotel in Saigon was a place we stayed regularly over the years. I suppose it would rate about one and a half stars as far as hotels go, (I'm not sure about the half) but what it lacked in austerity, it sure made up for in character. If memory serves me correctly, Shirley Simmons would have been the one to introduce us to the place while we were working for her in 1966.

What made the place was the clientele. Apart from Australians, there were Korean, American, Phillipino, Canadian, English and whoever there all the time, to make a good melting pot of international entertainers. Every night there were at the least three of four parties going on in different rooms, and every day different people came and went. It was the norm for me to wander from party to party, sticking my nose in to see what was happening. One room would have everyone there passing joints with a stereo cassette player going and everybody out of it, sharing their newly acquired sounds. The second party might be everybody having a few beers and talking about the war, their shows, their home country and just generally socializing. The other rooms could have anything going on from a combination of the first two to people writing letters home, rehearsing their show or their part in a show, or whatever. It was a great place and seemed to be full of life every time I stayed there.

I looked forward to staying at The Diplomat; it was an adventure in itself. It's the only hotel I've ever stayed in that I would take the skin Kathy Powell, USO Tour.off my knuckles from laying on my bed, and when a cockroach ran across the wall, I'd pick up my thong (shower shoe) from alongside the bed and throw it at the intruder. Invariably, I would hit the wall with my hand while throwing the thong, and graze the skin. One downside of staying at The Diplomat.

When Bob and I arrived there on the late flight in from Bangkok, it seemed like all hell broke loose and that the war had finally come to Saigon. A very noisy night with more small arms fire and explosions than we had ever heard before, and this was our third tour. The sky was filled with flares and with our ears stuck to the radio, news of what was happening came through. It seemed like Chowlon was copping it, mainly along Plantation Road, and there was a 24 hour curfew put in place immediately. A great way to mess up our plans to fly.

The first day was spent hanging around the hotel trying to find out the news about what was happening. We were not allowed on the street and couldn't get a taxi, as the only vehicles out there were military. Everything on the street seemed to be moving about in a state of emergency and even though we needed to fly out, I'm not sure I wanted to be moving about Saigon, that day anyway.

There was no food at the hotel, as the Diplomat didn't have a kitchen or a coffee shop like a real hotel, but we managed to get some rice and a few beers from a small bar across the laneway from the main entrance. That kept us going. Everyone was pretty scared and that night Bob and I ended up on the roof of the hotel with 5 or 6 girls from a Korean (all girl) band that was in the hotel at the time. They didn't speak English so the communication with them was at a minimum. To get to the roof we went outside the door on the top floor, and then climbed a ladder to the highest roof level to be able to get the best view.

The sky was lit up with flares. More flares than I had ever seen. They were being dropped continuously from planes and choppers so the city was pretty well lit up. It was like The Royal Easter Show, Luna Park and a circus, all "ON" at the one time. There was a lot of noise from small arms fire and explosions close by fires and smoke burning but most of it seemed to be coming from the Chowlon direction. What really took our breath away was two helicopter gunships firing rockets into the houses a mile or so away. It seemed so very close and helped to add to the scary picture.

Two blocks away from the Diplomat was an American NCO club and we could see the building from our vantage point on the roof. All of a sudden, after we had been on the roof for some time, small arms fire broke out from the ground to the roof of the NCO club. The noise and the tracers made it seem all the closer when we saw a body fall from their rooftop to the street. They had shot a VC sniper off the roof were were later told. As they shot this bloke and he fell, we had no idea of what was going on except that it was the war coming closer.

The Korean girls started to scream and all tried to climb down the ladder at the one time. They were making a hell of a racket and all I could think of was that someone had just been shot off a rooftop close by us and here we were, on a roof top with this bunch of Koreans, screaming and yelling at each other. An immediate traffic jam ensured with all the girls trying to climb down the ladder, all at the same time. I laid flat on my back to make the smallest target possible and started yelling myself at the girls to shut up and get down the ladder as quickly as possible (not exactly in those words). Well, we managed to get off the roof without a scratch but shaken. Never again did we venture up there to watch the war.

Three days had passed and it was all still happening. The noise and sounds of war were all around, and the nights were long and scary. I spent the nights imagining VC bursting in through our hotel room door and spraying us with an AK-47 I really thought it was going to happen!

Everybody in the hotel was in the same boat so food became a priority. We formed a delegation with the idea that we would go to the NCO club and get some food and bring it back for everyone to share. Five or six of us headed out the front of the hotel and started down the lane to where there was an American MP in a sandbagged position on the corner. We hadn't gone far outside the hotel when the MP yelled to us, "Go back!" I called out that I was Australian and that we had run out of food and were headed to the NCO club. Before I could complete my story, he yelled out again for us to go back. We inched toward him as I yelled out, trying to explain our situation, and he lifted his M16 to his shoulder and pointed it at us and called again, "Go back!"

It's funny how much emphasis was placed on his side of the altercation when he lifted his rifle. I no longer wanted to be on the street and I certainly didn't feel hungry any more. With the sight of that M16 I lost my appetite then and there and once again put my arms in the air and called out that it was OK, we were doing what he suggested and heading back into the hotel. We came through shaken again, and still unscathed!

After four days and nights, some GI came to the hotel to see someone staying there and he was in a U.S. Tan Son Nhut AB, Airmen's Mess 1966.military jeep. We spoke to him and told him we were trying to get to Tan Son Nhut to fly out to Đà Nẵng. Blow me down if he didn't offer to take us in his jeep the next morning. I cannot remember who or where he came from, or what he was doing driving around in a jeep. I don't think it really concerned us much at the time, as we just wanted to be out of Saigon and to get back to the rest of the show in Đà Nẵng. Đà Nẵng seemed to be home, and safe!

Bob and I were traveling pretty light and so we were ready at the allotted time outside the front of the hotel Doing a show for the Aussies and the Kiwis at Biên Hòa ... Bob Leppard on drums, Bob Pierse vocal, Terry Wright guitar and me on bass.the next morning. True to his word, this bloke shows up in his jeep with a couple of other Yanks aboard already. We jump in the back and he takes us off down Hi Bah Trung in the dark. The sun hadn't come up as it was that early and everything was pretty eerie. When we commented that he was not going in the right direction for the airport he replied that he had some more people to pick up in Chowlon. CHOWLON!

Now, as much as we wanted to get to the airport, we didn't want to go via Chowlon. According to the With Lucky Starr December 1965: 73.3rd Field hospital Lucky Starr reports, that's where most of the heavy fighting was, particularly along Plantation Road. Our protests fell on deaf ears and the GI's in the jeep all just laughed. There was no other vehicle on the streets and ARVN, White Mice, QCs and American MPs were watching us go past from behind their fortified sand bag positions. We were still protesting when the jeep swung into an alley and the bloke driving switched off the lights and told us to, "Shhhhh!"

The alley was pitch black dark and not much wider than the jeep. As the driver edged the machine forward at about 2 miles per hour, he whispered "listen to the safety clips come off on the rifles". We could hear the clicks all right and it's a wonder with my heart pounding in my chest. Christ I was frightened! Another two GIs were waiting for us and jumped in. The jeep backed out of the alley and we drove off, to the airport.

Silly me had the audacity to ask where we were off to now, and the driver replied, "Tan Son Nhut". Thank Christ for that! Then I asked The audience at a hospital show ... somewherehim which way we were going, he informed me we were heading down Plantation Road. PLANTATION ROAD! Now I was sure this bloke was mad and that we had done the wrong thing going with him when we didn't even know him, who he was or what he was up to. The sun was coming up and the day was breaking so we had a better view of the devastation along the street. Plantation Road sure looked like a war zone! There were bullet holes in everything it seemed, with buildings not only holey, but some destroyed and knocked over altogether. Burnt out vehicles and holes in the road didn't seem to hinder the driver. There were sandbag pillboxes on most corners and everytime we approached one of these, whoever was inside, raised their weapons and aimed at us, following the jeep in their sights until we went past. I got the feeling that they did not trust us.

What a relief. We made it along PLANTATION ROAD in one piece and headed into the airport compound through the main gate. I repeat, what a relief. When I said how happy I was that that trip was over, the guys in the jeep only laughed again and said it was more dangerous inside the compound than out as snipers had infiltrated the wire and they were still trying to weed them out. Thinking it was all over, that made me immediately begin to tremble again. They dropped us off at the terminal OK and we played it low key until we boarded our flight to Đà Nẵng.

Terry caught in a quite moment. Biên Hòa 1965. P-tube.

The flight was a relief and I was happy to be out of Saigon. When we made it home to our villa in Đà Nẵng, Barbara Virgil and her husband, Jim, had decided that the war was heating up too much for them and that they were going to leave Vietnam and head to Germany. They had their daughter, Monica, who was three and a half years old, in Đà Nẵng with them and it really seemed like the best thing for them to do at that point in time.

We left Vietnam and set up in Hong Kong for a while but eventually followed them to Germany for 6 months touring the U.S. Bases and then returning to Vietnam for another two tours with new shows. Vietnam and performing for the troops there was well and truly in our blood!

In this day and age I feel I could be addicted to Vietnam.

I log onto Vietnam sites of a day and I’m always looking for new sites or checking updates. I read books and keep my eye out for things pertaining to the war, and love conversing with Vets and other entertainers who were there, and understand. People who were involved just know and there is an understanding and kinship. It seems like I’m thinking about Vietnam, and my time there, constantly.

It may have been triggered off by my first Christmas there and my first Christmas away from my family and home, and the feeling it gave to be able to give back to the people that were there for all of us.

We were the first official Australian entertainers to go to Vietnam to entertain our armed forces and were sponsored by the R.S.L. (Returned Soldiers League). I travelled as a young bloke of twenty, and was overwhelmed by the adventure, the excitement and the experience of not only entertaining our own troops, but performing for Americans as well. It never occurred to me that my parents were horrified at the thought of their son going into a war zone or that I would be in any danger.

I had my twenty first birthday in Saigon and I had a great time.

We worked a club on the eve of my birthday and invited a whole bunch of people home to the villa where we stayed downtown, in one of the suburbs. We had a great party, champagne and the works. No official stuff, just a good slap-up party.

Slept most of the next day then got up, and did it all again. So, in reality, I had two twenty first birthdays, and for me, they were really great and a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until quite sometime later in my life that it dawned on me that I had robbed my parents of my twenty first. I know now, as a parent, that one of my life’s goals is to be with my daughter on her twenty first birthday. I wonder what my parents were thinking on 11/12/65 while I was in Saigon having a great time. It’s something that I can never give back to them.

I woke up on the morning of Christmas Day, 1965, and I felt pretty terrible. It was my first Christmas away from my parents and home, and I felt very very melancholy.

“What in the bloody hell am I doing here?” was on my mind. It was the little boy coming out in me and it didn’t feel too good. It was the first realisation I had of what I had taken on and what I was doing, and at that point in time, it left me in the doldrums.

There were three shows organized for that day. Two at Biên Hòa and one at Vung Tau. Three shows in a day is normally a tough call, but this day looked like being the toughest and I felt unsure.

As I showered, shaved and had some breakfast, things were pretty quite in the villa and maybe the other guys had similar thoughts and feelings. I had all my things ready to go when the Aussie military blokes arrived (Pick-Up as we called it) to escort us to Biên Hòa.

The first Aussie bloke I bumped into as he came into the house, immediately shook my hand and thanked me. I was taken aback when he said, “Thanks for giving up your Christmas to be here with us.”

That continued all day. All these guys coming up and thanking me and shaking my hand.

We had three great shows with Don Lane, Lucky Starr, Lyn Flecture and a bunch of others. Everything went great especially when we joined the officers and served the enlisted men Christmas lunch. We learnt that it is an Australian military Christmas tradition and we had a great time joining in.

It turned out to be a fantastic day and the best Christmas I’ve ever had. From being down in the dumps first thing in the morning, to being on top of the world for the rest of the day, was just great.

Maybe, this is one of the reasons I’m addicted!

In closing, Australian entertainers paid a price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was also an Australian girl singer shot by a GI while she performed in a foraging incident that went wrong. Another Australian entertainer shot while travelling on a country road between shows after dark. Some gave all. Thanks for helping complete the picture.

 

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