Tony van Sleeuwen describes his experiences during the Vietnam War as “horrific”.
Tony van Sleeuwen describes his experiences during the Vietnam War as “horrific”. Yvonne Gardiner

Nasho heads for Vietnam to pay respects

WAR veteran Tony van Sleeuwen is going back to Vietnam for the first time since he completed his tour of duty as a "Nasho".

National service was the term applied to all those who were required to enlist in Australia's military defence forces between the years 1951 and 1972.

Of these 292,000 recruits, 212 men died on active service - two in Borneo and 210 in Vietnam.

Tony, of Helensvale, did two years of national service after being called up in 1967, when he was 20 years of age.

During his upcoming trip to Vietnam from the end of April, he will spend two weeks retracing steps with a friend from their 5th "Tiger" Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5 RAR).

"The battalion lost about 30 people and a lot more psychologically," he said.

"During the two tours of duty, the battalion lost 50 soldiers, had several hundreds of wounded and a lot more with psychological trauma later in life.

"It took more than 20 years later that I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

"My life changed dramatically (after Vietnam). I was a totally different person.

"I just want to go back there and pay my respects to those who lost their lives.

"I believe in the camaraderie that we have and the spirit that should continue forever.

"Respect is very important."

When Tony first joined the Army, after medical and physical sign-offs, he was sent on February 1968 to 3RTB Recruit Training Battalion in Singleton NSW.

"I was in the 11th intake of Nashos. They did four intakes a year," he said.

"I joined 5 RAR in August 1968 for further training and exercises, preparing to go to South Vietnam in Feb 1969.

"I was very keen to go.

"I have always believed that we had a duty to be there.

"South Vietnam was a democratically elected government.

"They invited us to fight the enemy that was invading their country."

After being advised to go into the medical corps by a friend, Tony was sent elsewhere.

"They said 'you're a fit person, you're going into the infantry'," he said.

"Within the infantry, they had the stretcher bearer/medic course - I even did midwifery."

For a paypacket of $64 a fortnight while in Vietnam, Tony and his mates suffered "horrific" experiences and a life that was precarious.

"I was a stretcher bearer/paramedic as well as a trained driver," he said.

"At times I was required to drive the Land Rover ambulance in convoy to take non-urgent walking patients to the various field hospitals in Vung Tau and the very large Bien Hoa air base hospital, close to Saigon.

"As a driver, I always had someone with me with a rifle, protecting me," he said.

"We were never safe, even within our own battalion lines.

"We were always subject to grenades and rocket fire."

Snakes were also a common hazard.

"I nearly got bitten by a cobra myself," Tony said.

"You couldn't shout out because you were on patrol."

Tony spent just over 10 months in Vietnam during the war, fighting a "formidable foe".

"The Vietcong were smart people," he said.

"I was home for Christmas and got discharged on February 7, 1970."

On Anzac Day, April 25, Tony will remember his fallen comrades at the North Gold Coast RSL branch.

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