Anzac Day: Vietnam veteran reflects on war sacrifices

Vietnam War veteran Alan McNulty. Picture: Martin Kennealey www.communitypix.com.au d492406
Vietnam War veteran Alan McNulty. Picture: Martin Kennealey www.communitypix.com.au d492406

VETERAN Alan McNulty says Anzac Day is a time to remember all those who have served Australia in wars.

The 5RAR (Royal Australian Regiment) Association WA president enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in January 1963.

“When I first signed up, I thought it was an adventure – join the army, get paid and travel,” he said.

“Once I served a year so, I loved the service.”

Full list of Perth Anzac Day services

He served with the 5th Battalion in South Vietnam in 1966 to ’67, returning there as a platoon sergeant in 1969.

That August, he was injured by shrapnel and mortar fire as his platoon withdrew during contact with enemy forces entrenched in bunkers.

The Ocean Reef RSL memorial.

More than 15 members of the platoon were injured during that evacuation, and Mr McNulty said another wounded soldier held his hand on the plane as they were evacuated so he would not die alone.

“We’ve been friends ever since – it’s just a bond that keeps you close,” he said.

“I was seriously wounded on the second tour and spent many months in hospital.

“I had shrapnel wounds to both legs, both arms, chest, back and head.”

He received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions and courage while serving as a sergeant, including efforts to rescue Australian officers and South Vietnamese troops, and protect his own platoon in combats.

“The injuries prevented me rejoining the battalion but luckily the army kept me on,” he said.

“I finished after 22 years of service.

“Now I spend my time trying to look after our members of 5th Battalion who are not so fortunate as me with their health and wellbeing.”

Anzac Day a time to remember those who served in all wars

Mr McNulty is a member of Joondalup City RSL and plans to attend its Anzac Day dawn service at Ocean Reef Sea Sports Club, which starts 5.45am on April 25.

The service is open to the public and will be followed by a gunfire breakfast for gold coin donations.

“The bar will be open from 8am for people to have a drink and people will be able to legally play two-up,” Mr McNulty said.

The Iluka resident said he would take part in the march in Perth city with the 5RAR Association WA following the Joondalup service.

“We have a get-together after the service at 43 Below bar in Barrack Street – we expect 150 members with wives to attend,” he said.

“We reminisce our own individual stories from when we served.

“Many still suffer from their injuries now, either mentally or physically.

“I particularly remember the 50 brave soldiers from 5RAR who did not return from Vietnam.

“We always remember Anzac Day to commemorate all our brave men and women who served in all wars, many of whom didn’t return.

“We will always remember them for what they did to keep our country free.”

Full list of Anzac Day services across Perth

Mr McNulty said it was also a time to honour those who served in other conflicts and in peace-keeping operations, and those injured during service.

While services were solemn, he said there was usually a good atmosphere as veterans got together to reminisce, with “plenty of laughter”.

“It brings back the mateship, comradeship and people that served together,” he said.

“I think the people have embraced Anzac Day.

“Each year the crowds get bigger at Kings Park; they get bigger lining the street – they are supporting the Anzac spirit.”

Ocean Reef RSL dawn service. Picture: Martin Kennealey d453151

Mr McNulty said as veterans aged and numbers dropped, retired service organisations were “looking for younger veterans to fill the gap and keep the tradition going”.

He said the message also spread when veterans went to schools to talk about their experiences, particularly at high schools where students took an interest in it.

Schools commemorate Anzac Day

Mr McNulty said he believed Australia should have armed forces, and all conflicts “right or wrong” had helped ensure Australians could live in freedom.

“War is a terrible thing – the First World War was supposed to be the war to end all wars, then we had the Second World War,” he said.

“Going to war wasn’t my decision; it was the government’s decision.

“We were regular soldiers and that was our duty to go an defend the country.

“It was either kill or be killed so you had no choice.

“All the conflicts that we’ve been involved in, right or wrong, it’s been better for us, to have a life like we’ve always lived.”

Veteran rallies servicemen for Anzac memorial footy game march

Mr McNulty said the 5th Battalion, which was still active, served in World War I and other wars since.

“We are known as the Tiger Battalion – we have a real tiger at Crocodylus Park in Darwin,” he said.

Veteran returns to Vietnam

Mr McNulty said he had returned to Vietnam once, about a year-and-a-half ago.

“I never wanted to go back to Vietnam because I had too many nightmares, but my son wanted to go back,” he said.

“We went back with two of my friends that served in Vietnam.

“It brought back all the memories – I think it did me good to go back and see what the country is like and see what has been achieved by people fighting over there.

“Even though it’s a communist country, tourism is one of the big things – it’s a lovely place to visit; the economy is good, people have jobs.”

Joondalup to host dawn service