WHAT IS WRITTEN ON THE WALL OF WORDS



Quotations From The Wall Of Words

At The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In Canberra, Australia

[Many readers have had difficulty in deciphering these often cryptic phrases, so a 'normal language' explanation of each quote has been included, courtesy of the late Brigadier Alf Garland]


THE RAAF DUST-OFF PILOTS HAD NO LIGHT AND SHOWED GREAT SKILL IN COMING DOWN.

[The Royal Australian Air Force medical evacuation helicopter pilots had to do without landing zone lights, which put their flying skills to great test during night extractions.]


SUNRAY WAS DIRECTING THE LIGHT FIRE TEAM - BUSHRANGERS, FROM HIS POSSUM.

[The Commanding Officer, radio call-sign 'Sunray', was directing the aerial fire support from the armed helicopters whose radio call-sign was " Bushranger", from his position as an observer/passenger in a light observation Bell Sioux helicopter - call-sign 'Possum'.]


THE PART PLAYED BY ARTILLERY WAS DECISIVE.

[Because the fire discipline and tactics of the enemy were almost identical to those of the Australian troops, the artillery fire support to ground troops was a decisive factor in the success of any operation.]


WHAT WE DID ON THE BATTLEFIELD IN THE MORNING WAS ON OUR LIVING ROOM TV SCREENS THAT NIGHT.

[The speed of transmission of the electronic media was such that pictures taken by television cameramen during the day could well be on television back home that same evening.]


THE NVA HUGGED OUR WITHDRAWAL AND ENGAGED THE DUST-OFF CHOPPERS.

[The North Vietnamese Army troops maintained very close contact with us as we withdrew from the battle area (making artillery support almost impossible) and shot at our medical evacuation helicopters.]


THE TANKS WENT AHEAD OF THE INFANTRY IN APC’S.

[The Centurion tanks of the Australian Armoured Squadron deployed and moved in front of the infantry, who were riding in M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers of the Australian Cavalry Squadron.]


THE EFFORT REQUIRED OF THE NURSING SISTERS INDICATES THEIR TOUR OF DUTY SHOULD BE REDUCED.

[The strain experienced by the Australian Army Nursing sisters in carrying out their nursing duties in Vietnam suggests that they should not be expected to spend a 12 month tour of duty in Vietnam.]


HOBART WAS BRACKETED REPEATEDLY BY MEDIUM TO LARGE SPLASHES.

[HMAS HOBART was fired upon and the enemy gunfire straddled the ship on a number of occasions.]


THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY WAS LIKE THE POST-VERSAILLES GERMAN ARMY - MEN IN THE RANKS COULD HAVE BEEN LEADERS. GENERAL WESTMORELAND.

[The Australian Army was very professional and well trained, and the soldiers in the ranks displayed a high degree of leadership.]


THE ENEMY FOUND OUR COMMAND RADIO NET, THREW COLOURED SMOKE AND ALMOST SUCKED THE CO INTO A LANDING.

[The enemy started transmitting on our radio network and made out that they were part of it.  They threw a coloured smoke grenade as a recognition signal and almost enticed the Commanding Officer into landing his helicopter in the area of the coloured smoke (I.e., into an ambush).


BIG CONTACT TONIGHT IN THE BINH BA RUBBER. TROOPS HIT WITH RPG’S. READY REACTION FORCE WENT OUT IN APC’S.

[Our troops cam into contact with a large number of enemy in the Binh Ba rubber plantation this evening.  The enemy fired on them with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG's).  A backup force of infantry in M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers was sent out to the area of the contact to assist.]


NOBODY’S GOT 365 DAYS AND A WAKEY TO GO.

[A tour of duty in Vietnam was usually one year, or 365 days.  New arrivals were invariably taunted by old hand with the fact that they still had 365 days to serve before completing their tour.  The reference was that you had a long time to go, and anything could happen.  Troops really started to think that they were "short" when the day count got down to 30 or 40 days to go.  The term 'wakey' referred to waking up on your last day in Vietnam.]


AN EXTREME EFFORT WAS DEMANDED FROM NURSING STAFF ON THESE OCCASIONS - OVER 24 HOURS ON DUTY WAS DONE ON MOST OF THE DAYS MENTIONED.

[When large numbers of casualties or sick were being brought into the medical installation at Vung Tau the nursing staff were required to spend long hours on duty and often these tours of duty required nurses to spend more than 24 hours at a stretch on duty, caring for patients.]


THE TEAM.

[Refers to the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam (AATTV) which was composed of Officers and Warrant Officers who acted as Military Advisers to Vietnamese Army units during the Vietnam War.


MAGPIE 35, HIT MY SMOKE.

['Magpie 35' was the radio call sign of one of the Canberra bomber flights of 2 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force, which was being asked by an Airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC) to drop their bombs at the place where the FAC had marked the target using a smoke rocket.]


PERTH ENGAGED FIVE CD SITES AS PRIMARY TARGETS, PROVIDED SUPPRESSION FIRE AND STOPPED A CROSS LOT ON HON ME ISLAND FROM RADIATING.

[This comes from an after-action report by HMAS PERTH and indicates that naval gunfire from PERTH was brought down on five radar/missile sites on Hon Me island, and stopped them from operating their radars against allied targets.]


CONTACT - STAND BY DUST-OFF.

[A radio message indicating that the sending unit had come into contact with the enemy and requesting that the medical evacuation helicopters be put on standby to evacuate possible casualties.]


THE DECISION TO SEND AN AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION TO VIETNAM IS A GRAVE ONE, THESE ARE INESCAPABLE OBLIGATIONS WHICH FALL ON US BECAUSE OF OUR POSITION, TREATIES AND FRIENDSHIP. THERE WAS NO ALTERNATIVE BUT TO RESPOND AS WE HAVE.

[The manner in which an Australian politician announced the reason for the Australian Government sending the First Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment to Vietnam in 1965.  The treaties referred to were SEATO and ANZUS.]


AUSTRALIA’S LAST COMBAT FORCES LEFT SOUTH VIETNAM YESTERDAY ON BOARD HMAS SYDNEY, ENDING 10 YEARS OF AUSTRALIAN INVOLVEMENT IN THE WAR.

[The last of the Australian combat forces have left Vietnam on the Troop Transport HMAS SYDNEY, after ten years of Australian involvement in the war, which began with the arrival of members of the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam, in 1962.]


I DON’T SEEM TO HAVE MANY FRIENDS SINCE I CAME HOME. IF YOU WEREN’T THERE THEN YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND.

[Many Vietnam veterans felt isolated from the community when they came home because of the hostile public attitude to Australia's involvement in the war, which flowed over to those who served in Vietnam.  Because of this hostile attitude to the war, the feeling was that if you had not been to Vietnam, you could not understand the difficulties that confronted those who served in the war.]


MORE THAN EVER BEFORE TV SHOWED THE TERRIBLE HUMAN SUFFERING AND SACRIFICE OF WAR - RICHARD NIXON.

[Statement by United States President Richard Nixon on the ability of the electronic media to portray, more than in any previous conflict, graphic images of the human suffering that came out of the day by day conduct of the war in Vietnam.


FROM 1965 ARMY UNITS IN VIETNAM CONSISTED OF ABOUT 50% NATIONAL SERVICEMEN AND 50% REGULAR ARMY. ABOUT 20,000 NATIONAL SERVICEMEN SERVED IN VIETNAM.

[About half of those Australians who saw service in Vietnam were young men who were conscripted into the Army.  The rest were soldiers of the Australian Regular Army (ARA).  Not all of those who were conscripted during the years 1964 to 1973 served in Vietnam, and all those who did serve in Vietnam volunteered to go.


THIS IS PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON IN YOUR LOCATION.

["Puff the Magic Dragon" was a converted US Air Force C47 Dakota aircraft that carried flares and a number of mini-guns mounted to fire at the side of the plane's fuselage.  The mini-guns were actually based on the form of the old Gatling gun and could fire 6000 rounds per minute.   The C47's flew at night, illuminating the battlefield by dropping flares when asked to do so, and providing awesome machinegun support to Allied ground troops.  The quotation is from a Puff notifying the ground troops they were in their area and ready to provide support.  "Puff the Magic Dragon" was the name of a song of this time, by the group Peter, Paul and Mary.]


THEN SOMEONE CALLED OUT ‘CONTACT’ AND THE BLOKE BEHIND ME SWORE AND WE HOOKED IN THERE FOR HOURS, THEN A GOD-ALMIGHTY ROAR. FRANKIE KICKED A MINE THE DAY THAT MANKIND KICKED THE MOON. GOD HELP ME, HE WAS GOING HOME IN JUNE.

[This is a quotation from the song "I was only 19" by the Australian singing group "Red Gum".  It  relates to a fire fight that had lasted for some hours when an explosion occurred.  "Frankie", one of the soldiers had kicked (tripped) a landmine.  In the song he did this on the same day that the US put a man on the moon for the first time.  Frankie was supposed to be returning to Australia on completion of his tour of duty in June of that year.]


LIKE CHICKEN MAN - THERE WERE CHARLIES EVERYWHERE.

["Chicken Man" was a popular comedy show on the US Armed Forces Radio program.  His catchcry was "Chicken Man!  He's everywhere, he's everywhere!"  Here, like Chicken Man, there were Viet Cong or VC everywhere.  The terms VC and Charlie are derived from the phonetic alphabet of Victor Charlie.]


MORE THAN 750,000 MEN TURNED TWENTY DURING THE YEARS OF THE WAR - A BALLOT WITH MARBLES SPUN IN A BARREL WAS USED TO HELP SELECT THOSE FOR CONSCRIPTION.

[The selection of men to be conscripted into the Army was by means of a ballot using a barrel like those used to pick out winning numbers in a lottery.  All those turning twenty were called up for service if the marble representing the date of their twentieth birthday was drawn out of the barrel.  During the period when conscription was in operation, about 750,000 turned twenty in Australia.]


I THROW SMOKE! - I SEE GREEN - AFFIRMATIVE.

[The positive recognition by aircraft, of friendly troops on the ground, was carried out by the troops throwing a coloured smoke grenade in response to a request from the aircraft.  The ground troops would identify the colour of the smoke thrown, and the aircraft would confirm the colour of the smoke seen.  If they were the same, they would respond with the word 'Affirmative", confirming that the aircraft had seen the right colour, and could identify the troops on the ground.  This procedure was used so that the enemy could not confuse the aircrew, or pretend to be friendly troops by throwing their own smoke grenade.]


PHANTOMS AND SPOOKY WERE INVALUABLE BUT THE HELICOPTER GUNSHIPS GAVE US THE BEST AIR SUPPORT.

[Close air support was given by the US Air Force Phantom F4-C fighter/ground attack aircraft and C47 aircraft called "Spooky", that dropped flares at night, but the most effective air support came from heavily armed helicopters giving close air support using machine-gun and rocket fire.]


FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MODERN HISTORY THE OUTCOME OF WAR WAS DETERMINED NOT ON THE BATTLEFIELD BUT ON THE TV SCREEN.

[The power of the electronic media to mould the attitudes of the viewing public (the "home front") about the Vietnam war has been said to have determined the outcome of the war far more than the results of major battles.]


OUR FAMILY FOUND ITSELF DIVIDED OVER VIETNAM.

[The attitudes and support for the war in Vietnam often differed between members of the same family.  Some supported the Australian involvement and conscription while other members of the same family could be opposed to Australian involvement and to conscription.]


AS A VARIATION WE CLOSED THE VILLAGE CORDON IN DAYLIGHT AND SEARCHED NEXT MORNING.

[One form of operation undertaken in Vietnam was called the "cordon and search".  It required a force to set up a ring of troops, or cordon around a village to stop all entry and exit.  This generally occurred at night, and during the daylight hours the village was searched for any enemy.  In this instance, the cordon was put in place during daylight, maintained during the night, and the search conducted the following morning.  Any attempt to break out of the cordon was met with lethal force.


WE MUST LEARN TO UNDERSTAND NVA BUNKER SIGN - TRACKS, LATRINES, DEAD BRANCHES, STREAMS.

[Stones, twigs and branches in various configurations were used as signposts by the North Vietnamese Army to indicate bunkers, weapon pits, tracks, latrines, streams, water, mines and booby traps.  This statement relates to the need for Australian troops to understand and use these signs to provide early warning.


AT VAMPIRE PAD OUR OWN DOCTORS AND NURSES TOOK OVER - WE KNEW WE HAD MADE IT.

["Vampire Pad" was the helicopter landing ground at the Australian Hospital at Vung Tau.  Australian casualties felt that as they were still alive when they arrived at this installation then their chances of survival were 100%.  This shows the degree of confidence that the Australians had in their medical personnel and installations.]


ON 3 OCTOBER 1987, 25,000 VIETNAM VETERANS MARCHED IN A WELCOME HOME PARADE THROUGH SYDNEY TO THE CHEERS OF HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS. IT WAS THE GREATEST EMOTIONAL OUTPOURING WITNESSED IN DECADES.

[As an act of reconciliation, a "Welcome Home" parade through the streets of Sydney was organised and held on the 3rd of October 1987.  This event was considered by the Vietnam Veteran Community as the beginning of the healing process, whereby the Australian public acknowledged the efforts of those who fought in Vietnam, and recognised that they had done an excellent job in undertaking the tasks allotted them, but that they were not to blame for the political decision to send them to Vietnam.]