By Luke Voogt
For David Wilson Anzac Day is a time to quietly remember those who didn’t come back – like mate and fellow infantryman Nick Cassano.
“He got shot in the head on his first operation,” the Highton Vietnam veteran said.
While the two were never “close”, their shared infantry and recruit training created a special bond.
“You never forget,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Wilson spent his 21st birthday in Vietnam, lugging a back-bending 60kg – including 2000 rounds – as a machine gunner for 5RAR (infantry) during 1969 and 1970.
With resupplies every three days, the “water you had to drink was the water you had to carry”.
“During wet season it wasn’t too bad,” Mr Wilson said.
“You would drain the water off your hoochie at night or a banana leaf if you were lucky. We had chlorine tablets but they were terrible.”
He remembers stalking North Vietnamese Army soldiers hidden in dense jungle.
“If you were standing at the window there,” he said pointing three metres away, “you’d hardly be seen”.
After months patrolling the soldiers became attuned to the nature around them.
“The worst part was when you were walking through and it just went dead silent,” Mr Wilson said, “you knew something was going to happen.”
Sometimes the enemy shot at his platoon four or five times a day. The fights could be as short as 15 minutes while others could last for hours.
“You knew when they had just missed you because you could hear the (supersonic) crack but by the time you heard it the bullet was well gone,” he said.
He respected North Vietnamese Army soldiers as a deadly adversary.
“You had to,” he said. “They had the same loyalty to their soldiers as we did.
“We would never leave anybody (who died) behind. They did but they would try not to.”
Mr Wilson was part of a welcome home parade down George Street in Sydney and remembered people throwing confetti from windows.
“But there were twice as many protesters,” he said.
He remained in the army for six months after the war.
“Anywhere you went, if you were in a uniform, you’d get abused.”
Vietnam left Mr Wilson with a bad back and he still goes to the gym through Veteran Affair’s rehab program. The emotional scars are less noticeable.
“Even now I hate to sit in a restaurant or anywhere with my back to the door,” he said.
“I get very emotional very easy which they tell me is part of PTSD.”
Mr Wilson’s grandfather Benjamin fought in the Boer War, WWI and WWII – including a stint in the notorious Japanese prison camp Changi.
His uncle Lance flew the most sorties over Germany in World War II, while father Cecil served in the RAAF in Darwin.