Private Rod Walker in Vietnam, where he fought in the Battle of Fire Bases Coral and Balmoral in 1968.
Private Rod Walker in Vietnam, where he fought in the Battle of Fire Bases Coral and Balmoral in 1968. Contributed

Gympie Anzac spent his 21st in bloody battle that killed 26

WHILE many people fret over location, drinks and music for their 21st birthday party, Rod Walker did not know if he would live through the night on his.

Thanks to a mix-up in his R&R application in 1968, Mr Walker celebrated his milestone in the middle of a siege in which 26 Australian soldiers were killed, and 109 wounded - the Battle of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral, a fight which lasted about four weeks.

And his birthday, May 28, fell in the middle of it all.

"The thing I thought is 'am I going to see this through'?" Mr Walker said.

A Private and serving in Three Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, Mr Walker was deployed to the area 20km north of Bien Hoa City in May, 1968, to intercept and disrupt enemy forces.

Two Fire Bases were set up in support, Coral and Balmoral, but on May 12 FSB Coral was attacked before its defences were in place.

"I think we were put there as bait," he said.

"When we were going into the area, the Americans reckoned we were mad.

"They were pulling out."


Rod Walker holding his dog tags at his home in Gympie.
Rod Walker holding his dog tags at his home in Gympie. Scott Kovacevic

He said they were put there to block the north Vietnamese, who were coming through to Saigon, but the operation was a bit of a "balls up".

"It was a whole shambles that first night," he said.

While he had put in for R&R for his birthday, he said the Army sent him on it early.

It was a series of events which placed him in the middle of a battle.

"I had to go back to Coral to go out on R&R," Mr Walker said.

"I was in Coral for the second attack... and that was awkward because I was sitting back behind the lines because I really wasn't supposed to be there, so you couldn't do anything, but you had to be ready in case they got through."

Mr Walker said they were supposed to fly out early the next morning.

It wasn't until late in the afternoon that everything was cleared and they could leave, though.

When the battles were over in the first week of June, 1968, Mr Walker was sent home after he discovered he' had gone deaf in one ear.

He said the feeling was not what you might think.

"It's funny, you're all excited about the fact that you're going home - until it comes time to leave and you think to yourself I'm bailing out on these blokes," Mr Walker said.

"You feel bad."

Not all was lost for his 21st celebrations, though, thanks to his family.

When his children teased him about turning 63, Mr Walker tactfully corrected them that "no, I'm going to be 21 again".

So they gave him a surprise party, inviting his friends and family to celebrate his turning 21 again.

More than 100 people turned up, including some unexpected guests.

"Five of those blokes were army mates with their wives," he said.

"So I had my 21st birthday, it was just 42 years late."

Gympie Times

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