The hero below

Frank Mallard.
Frank Mallard.

These men were later called ‘The Tunnel Rats’.

Mr Mallard arrived in Vietnam in September, 1965, and was based in Bien Hoa, north-east of the then capital city of Saigon. He wears the Tunnel Rat label with a sense of pride ” and it is little wonder why.

Landing in a war zone under sniper fire on January 9, 1966, the Australian 3 Field Troop realised the shots came from a small, inconspicuous slit in the ground.

The slit was the clue that led the Australians to unveil a camouflaged hatch leading to an underground tunnel ” a major discovery that marked a turning point in the war.

3 Field Troop commander Sandy Macgregor was later awarded a Military Cross for leading his engineers to be the first to access, map and systematically attack the tunnels.

‘My friend Les Colmer and Barry Harford, from the mining town of Broken Hill, were the first to enter the tunnels,’ Mr Mallard said.

‘The fact that it was so dark was the most frightening thing ” all you could take down there was a torch and a 9mm pistol.’

This troop of 68 Engineers who uncovered the underground battlefield can wear the US Presidential Commendation for service to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The commendation was awarded to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam and was later extended to the Australians of the 1RAR Gp, of which the Engineers were a part.

The 3 Field Troop came close to uncovering the underground headquarters of the South Vietnam headquarters of the Viet Cong but were ordered by the Americans to abandon the tunnel mission.

After the war, it was revealed the men were just one trap door away from uncovering the top-secret headquarters and possibly changing the course of history

As a driver and field engineer, Mr Mallard was also responsible for carrying out field engineer tasks and defusing bombs and booby traps that were found in the area of operations.

‘I blew myself up. I almost lost two fingers and got shrapnel in my arm and collar bone ” a couple of mates nearby weren’t too happy either,’ he said.

While Anzac Day provides the opportunity to remember his comrades and many uncles who fought in the wars from World War I to Korea, he can also reflect on a career of invaluable service.

‘I loved it all and if I had to do it all again I wouldn’t change a bit of it,’ he said.

Mr Mallard will be at Ellenbrook RSL’s Anzac ceremony at Woodlake Amphitheatre on Friday.