Mateship got him through
NEXT week will mark 50 years since Emerald's Tony Simon landed in South Vietnam to serve with the Australian Army in the controversial war.
He was aged just over 19 at the time, and was in the war zone for 13 months after arriving at the Australian Task Force base Nui Dat on August 20, 1969.
This Sunday, on Vietnam Veterans' Day, Mr Simon will remember the men and women he served with, the "mateship” that helped him through, and the Christmas that he spent away from home.
"That was one of the lowest points.
"You had no modern communications - it was good old letters and people in Australia were protesting and supplies were held up a lot.”
Mr Simon will also remember his colleague and friend, a sergeant who was shot dead with another sergeant after Christmas by a fellow army member.
"He was my reinforcement and he was gunned down within the army base. I had left the base in August.”
He says the man who shot him most likely had a vendetta on the two sergeants he killed and "must have had what we now call depression”.
Mr Simon said arriving in Nui Dat - which used to be called "the sharp end” of South Vietnam - was an "adventure”.
"At the start it was something different. You never thought you were going to go overseas.
"You're only 19, but you were well aware of the dangers that could happen and did happen.”
He says that as he worked in transport, he would support the infantry and also carry out other general duties including carting gravel or water.
"We travelled with the Armoured Corps and we'd be supporting the infantry on the ground and in the field and moving troops from A to B.”
Eventually returning to Australia, "wasn't all that welcoming” Mr Simon says, with troops being let out of planes at midnight in Sydney to avoid protesting crowds.
"Coming home, I just wanted to get out of the army and get on with life. I had my fiancé Kathy waiting, and 48 years later she's still with me.”
Mr Simon says the mental battles and severe scars from the war were often left for people to work out themselves.
"But there's people a lot worse off than I'll ever be.
"We've got to get together and try and remember. Our rights were fought for and all those people that are still laying overseas dead, they gave us our freedom for today. They are the people who lay their life for us and that's got to be remembered.”
Mr Simon has returned to Vietnam five times, including with a 2013 cricket tour team from the Gemfields who fundraised $28,000 for an orphanage in Vietnam to buy a new minibus.
"We played the English cricket team and we beat them - it was a charity match.
"I felt proud to be able to give something back to the children whose lives had been destroyed by the whole bloody affair - a lot of them were orphans.”
He has also taken his grandchildren to the Long Tan cross and the old army camp and believes the teachers today are more aware of educating young people about war than they were 40 years ago.
"They're so dedicated with their Anzac Day marches and I'm sure these children will instil the knowledge in their children as they go along.
"I just hope people remember the lives that were given for our tomorrow - it's not all about war and glory. It's about ensuring that everybody understands and remembers.”