Like many young New Zealand males during the late 1960s, Wayne Chester joined the army and headed overseas to fight in Vietnam. As a machine gunner he patrolled the jungles outside of Saigon and saw combat, facing the Viet Cong on several occasions. He recounts his experiences in the jungle, along with some close encounters with wildlife, and the altercations and laughs shared with the American contingent. He also discusses his admiration for the Vietnamese people and the Viet Cong, and the long-term physical and political effects of agent orange.
Vietnam veteran Thomas Brosnahan shares his time spent in the military in this Memories of Service Interview. He moved from the Territorial Forces to the army at 23 to join his two brothers, before heading off to the war in Southeast Asia. He would spend 20 years in military service across Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, including active duty in the capital, Saigon. As well as the Vietnam War itself, Brosnahan reflects on life after the war, particularly on the hostility vets faced from the public upon returning home, and the effects of agent orange on his former colleagues.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
The subject of this interview is Greg Rodgers, a Flight Sergeant in the RNZAF in Vietnam and Malaya. Rodgers joined the air force after college, and trained as a mechanic. He talks about the bond between ground crew and pilots, and the responsibility of having a pilot’s life in his hands at age 18. Rodgers also mentions off-duty good times (including jumping from choppers into the sea, before being wet-winched up again) and reflects on bad times after returning to civilian life: official neglect ("there was no support"), and the shock of leaving his Air Force "family".
Stoney Burke reckons aviation fuel just about runs in his veins; fascinated by aircraft since childhood, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force felt like a logical choice. Burke's long career as an engineer both on the ground and in the air included helping get supplies to Nepal for Sir Edmund Hillary’s school building projects, plus service in the Vietnam War. Flying into Saigon and some of the forward air bases in Vietnam could prove tricky, with planes taking small arms fire on their approach. Post Air Force, Stoney continued his career at Air New Zealand.
After a long flight in a C-130 Hercules, Dez Harrison arrived in Vietnam on the fifth of May 1967. As he puts it, when you’re young and green it’s all an adventure. Serving in 161 Field battery, Harrison says he was blessed with good leadership from non-commissioned officers who were mainly veterans of Korea and Malaya. As the memories rattle off, he has plenty of praise for the Americans in Vietnam, but less so for his Australian comrades. Stories of leave in Saigon and Singapore provide fond memories, but the reception back in New Zealand at the end of his service is less happy.