The ARVN & Combat Cameraman Neil Davis

Discussion in 'Vietnam' started by Drusus Nero, Sep 7, 2015.

  1. Drusus Nero

    Drusus Nero Banned

    Hello to all, wherever you are

    I have a copy of a sterling publication by Aussie journo, Tim Bowden, It's called "One Crowded Hour - Neil Davis, Combat Cameraman, 1934-1985" (1987, William CollinsPty Ltd, Sydney, Australia.)

    For those not familiar, Neil was probably the most widely respected combat cameraman and journalist in South-East Asia during the period of the American involvement in the conflict. David Bradbury's documentary, "Frontline", won widespread praise and awards for showcasing Neil's work.

    But he was more than that. A mentor to more correspondants than can be known, (including Tim Page), Neil's humanitarianism and love for SE Asia and it's people shone through every facet of his work and life.

    Neil mainly followed the South Vietnamese military, with a few exceptions, whilst in Vietnam. His work with the ARVN also highlighted something that has been buried in most historic accounts. This will be made clear by the end of the thread.

    I will begin with the Australian Army view of ARVN from "Australian Military Opertions in Vietnam", spiced with a few quotes from an American, Robert Mason, from the 1st Cavalry Division, in his wonderful book, "Chickenhawk". I'll then move on to the bulk of the thread, which sees the ARVN operations, (and much more) from the point of view of Neil Davis.......Enjoy!


    THE ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM...(ARVN)....The Australian Army View.
    The Australians had to contend with another military force in Vietnam, the ARVN. After the founding of South Vietnam, the U.S. made considerable efforts to build the ARVN into a conventional field force in an image of itself. By 1965 it was clear this had failed; the ARVN did not have sufficient combat skills to trouble the VC in battle.

    In addition, by focusing on the ARVN's major combat unts the Americans did nothing to improve the capabilities of the local force, the Popular Force (PF) and Regional Force (RF) units which daily faced the VC at village level. The result was a national army that was unable to fight for it's nation's defense or to deter insurgents from dominating the countryside.

    In 1965, when American ground forces entered the conflict, the United States lost interest in the ARVN's further development. South Vietnam's Army was no longer required because the defeat of the VC had become an American task. With the exception of a few high quality battalions most of the ARVN was capable of little more than garrison duty. When Brigadier O.D. Jackson toured Vietnam he observed the South Vietnamese troops typically dug in on hilltops behind wire from which they rarely ventured forth. The American Ambassador to South Vietnam and a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maxwell Taylor, observed that
    "We never really paid attention to the ARVN Army. We didn't give a damn about them."

    The result was the marginalization of the South Vietnamese Army in it's own country.


    (Drusus Notes.....And thats IT. Thats all the attention ARVN receives from the Australian Army. They too, marginalize their efforts, rightly or wrongly. I turn now to the attitude of a typical member of some of the very first units to arrive in Vietnam.)
    Robert Mason, in his book, "Chickenhawk", gives a look at the ARVN that dovetails with the view of the Australians. Many Americans treated ARVN personnel with contempt. Most could not speak Vietnamese or French, and had little idea of the conditions the ARVN were facing in 1965.


    "Chickenhawk"...Page 143..(1965)
    I approached the headquarters tent after lunch. About five of the fifteen or so grunts on the hilltop were outside the tent hanging around. I said hello and sat down on a stack of C-ration cases. Beyond the group of T-shirted enlisted men, I could see the wooden legs of a map tripod through the tent door. The meeting between Grunt-6 (code name for unit commander) and his men was still going on.

    A Vietnamese soldier walked out of the tent. He was dressed in the camoflaged, tight fitting, big-pocketed uniform of the Vietnamese Rangers. He was, however, not a ranger but an interpreter. He was smiling. A smile is a safe thing to hide behind. I waved him toward me, happy to see an interpreter. I saw this as a chance to learn how the people here really felt about the war. The Cav was so isolated from the ARVNs, I had never had a chance before.
    "Hello," I said.
    "Hello," He said.
    "I've been wanting to talk to a Vietnamese who spoke English."
    "Yes." He said knowingly.
    "Well, how do you think we are doing so far?"
    "Yes," He nodded.
    "No, I meant how do you think we are doing? Are we winning?"
    "Yes, that could be so," he assured me. "How are you?"
    "Me?"( Must be trouble with my accent). "I'm fine. Fine."
    "I am fine, thankyou." He bowed slightly.
    I looked quickly over to the smiling faces of the grunts and realized that they all knew he couldn't speak English worth a shit.
    "Great," I said. "I understand that this hill is going to sink into the valley today."
    "Yes, that could be so."
    What fun. "They've been thinking about moving Saigon up here this weekend so we won't have to go far for R&R." I heard a little cheer from the watchers.
    "Saigon." He nodded with happy recognition.
    I was just getting into it when a private stepped out of the tent and yelled "Hey Ngyuen!". The smiling, wide-eyed interpreter nodded abruptly and ran back to the tent. At least he knew his name.


    Page 187-188......(1965)
    What do you do on your first day off after weeks of action when you're feeling tired, depressed and doomed on a hot wet day at Camp Holloway? You get a deuce-and-a-half and go into Pleiku and drink your brains out. That's what you do.
    I rode in with Leese and Riker and Nate, Connors, Banjo and Resler. I remember drinking beer all afternoon- effective because I usually didn't drink- first at one bar then another. They all blended into one. Though i had started with Resler as my companion, I somehow found myself with Kaiser at a table in the Vietnamese Officers Club that night.
    "We see Americans as being Ape-like, big and clumsy with hairy arms," a Vietnamese lieutenant was saying to Kaiser. "Also, you all smell bad, like greasy meat."
    Kaiser had gotten into a conversation with a racist of the opposite race. I watched the two men hate eachother while I drank genuine American bourbon that the Vietnamese lieutenant had kindly bought us.
    "Of course, you wouldn't be offended if I continue?", asked the lieutenant.
    "Naw", said Kaiser, squinting, "It's okay. I don't give a fuck what a slope thinks anyway." He belted down another.
    The two men continued to trade heartfelt insults, the gist of which revealed normally submersed beliefs. Kaiser disclosed that the ARVN units apparently would not or could not fight their own battles. The lieutenant demonstrated that the ARVN resented being rescued by such oafish, unjustifiably wealthy gorillas who were taking over everything in their country, including their women.

    After an hour of drinking and trading insults, Kaiser ended our stay by telling the old 'pull the plug' joke to the lieutenant. That was the cynical solution to differentiating between friend and foe in Vietnam and ending the war. The joke had us putting all the 'friendlies' on boats in the ocean where they would wait while the remaining people, the enemy, were killed. Then, as the punch line went, we would pull the plug, sink the ships.
    Kaiser seemed almost surprised that the lieutenant didn't laugh. Instead, the insulted man got up and left. Soon, looks from the other Vietnamese officers told us we weren't welcome. We left to continue our party at another bar.


    Page 189-190...(1965)
    Normally, the Cav carried only it's own troopers, but we hauled ARVNs one day. I had heard stories about their unwillingness to fight.
    "When you land at the LZ, make sure your door gunners cover the departing ARVNs," Williams said at the briefing. "There have been several incidents of so-called ARVNs turning around and firing into the helicopter that just dropped them off. Also, you may have a few on your ship that don't want to get off. If this happens, have one gunner force them out. The other gunner should be covering him. If your gunner has to shoot, make sure he knows to stop shooting when he gets the one who made the wrong move. A wrong move is turning around with a rifle pointed at you. We're flying this one lift as a favor. We won't be doing it again." Williams gave his flock a paternal look. "Keep your eyes open."

    I was amazed. This was the first time I had heard the rumors verified. In the months to come, I would hear as much about being wary with the ARVNs as I did about the Cong. If neither was to be trusted, who were our allies? Whose war was this? The people who had the most at stake wouldn't get out of the choppers and fight?

    But, we lifted the South Vietnamese without incident. We flew them to a big LZ from which they were supposed to patrol the newly liberated Ia Drang valley and maintain the status quo of allied domination. Within 24 hours they were pinned down by the VC. In two months we would return to retake the valley.


    Page 337......Mason is with another Army Unit, the 'Prospectors' (12th Aviation Co.) near Nha Trang. Mason is carrying ARVNs a few miles up the Ia Drang Valley from Dak To......(1966)
    The weather was great, puffy white clouds in a brilliant blue sky, a nice day for flying. Since I had been here once before, i knew there were no VC around. I felt that I had retired from heavy action after leaving the Cav. My only concern was the ARVNs. I kept hearing such bad stories about them. A Prospector told me that an ARVN had turned and fired at his ship when he dropped them at the LZ. I'd heard that before.

    We picked up 8 ARVN Rangers wearing tight tailored camouflage uniforms. They stared nervously, smoked cigarettes, and got aboard reluctantly. They did not bolster my sagging opinion of our ally.

    The 12 slicks in the mission were to fly the ARVNs a few miles up the valley from Dak To. There, we would cut across the eastern ridge and land two at a time on an eight foot wide ridge running to a small concrete fortress. While the flight stretched to get the spacing right, we heard on the radio that the VC were there too. From a couple of miles away I could see a daisy chain of Phantoms hitting the hill directly across from the small valley fortress. Sky King and I were to be the second pair of ships to land. As the first two ships landed, they called 'hits'.
    From several VC gun emplacements on the facing hill, tracers flicked out at the Phantoms. The fighters swooped, releasing monstrous bursts of cannon fire during their blindingly swift passes. The tracers coverged on them.
    I had the controls on the right side of the ship. Our buddy ship was taking a spot just in front of the fortress, leaving us the stark ridge nearest to the VC guns. I set up the approach. The two ships in front of me took off after what seemed to be an awfully long time on the ground. With a hundred yards to go, our right door gunner opened up on some muzzle flashes. At the same time, a Phantom began billowing black smoke in the middle of the strike. He climbed up sharply in an almost vertical climb- and we saw one man eject.

    As we landed I saw grazing rounds kick the dirt on the ridge in front of us. The emplacement was just a little higher than we were. The right door gunner blazed away, and i waited for the ARVNs to get the fuck out. When the crew chief called that they were off after what seemed like an hour, I looked back and saw him trying to force an ARVN off the ship from his awkward position in the pocket. The other ARVNs kept ducking their heads in the gunfire, waiting with wide-eyed anticipation for me to leave. I shook my head and started screaming "GET OFF! GET OFF!", and pointed at the door. They sat there. I heard a round go through the frame. the old familiar tick. The crew chief pulled out his .45. and pointed it at the soldiers, waving it toward the door with murder in his eyes. When they saw I wasn't going anywhere, and the crew chief might indeed kill them, they began to get off. I looked at the fortress to see if they were getting any covering fire. No one in sight. No guns were in action. Everyone was on the dirt behind the walls. The black, billowing trail of the Phantom dissappeared into the jungle. A pearl-white chute blossomed on the blue sky.

    Our buddy ship took off. "They're out!", yelled the chief. I glanced across the deck through the door at the ARVNs hiding on the low side of the ridge. I took off. As we crossed in front of the fortress, we saw the defenders lying low. Not one gun was in position.
    A half-mile away, it was over for us. That was it - one load to the ridge. I cruised the five miles back to the camp, steaming.
    "I've never seen anything like that. How the fuck are they going to win this stupid war if they fight like that!?"
    Sky King nodded gravely. He'd worked with ARVNs before.



    INTERMISSION - Drusus Notes
    The Australian Army is brusque in it's dismissal, but one wonders just how much they had to do with the ARVN operationally..

    Robert Mason has some experience with ARVNs, but not a lot really, compared to the number of missions he flew, (over a 1,000). With the last combat description at the Ia Drang, he assumes that there will be no VC at the LZ, "because he's been there before". Surprised at the opposition, he is critical of the ARVN reluctance to get out of the chopper, and rightly so, it's his life at stake.
    But, the VC have enough heavy ordnance to not only make the LZ hot as hell, but to casually bring down a Phantom at the same time. I feel there is an understandable reluctance to get off the ship by the ARVNs. The soldiers in the fortress are doing what comes natural in a hot firefight; keeping their heads down.

    Overall, from these two pieces of literature, and in a host of other lengthy historical tomes, (of which the above is a small sample), one is left with the distinct impression that every ARVN soldier was an incompetant coward. Words like 'unable' and 'unwilling' proliferate. You would think, wouldn't you, that that is 'game over' for the historical record........................



    Enter Australian Combat Cameraman NEIL DAVIS

    Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife
    Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
    One crowded hour of glorious life,
    Is worth an age without a name.

    (Neil Davis's Motto, written at the beginning of every work diary in SE Asia 1964-1985)

    (Neil Davis's words are in italics)

    Page 121- 130
    From his earliest days in Vietnam in 1964, Neil Davs was determined to film the Vietnam war from the perspective of the South Vietnamese infantryman. By doing so, he hoped to become familiar with the realities of the war in Vietnam, and although he was often a lone figure, he could give television viewers throughout the world a partial idea of what it was like to be a South Vietnamese soldier.

    "I didn't have strong anti-communist leanings although lots of my friends were on the anti-communist side. I just thought the Vietnamese people needed to work it out for themselves, and it was the responsibility of the foreign correspondents- who are allegedly non-aligned and absolutely neutral- to report fairly and accurately.
    The unfair thing was that from the time the Americans came into South Vietnam in force in 1965 until they announced a limited withdrawl in 1968, the impression given to the world was that the Americans were doing almost all the fighting, while the inefficient and cowardly ARVN were sitting back and doing nothing.
    That was not true, and the international press should accept responsibility for not telling the truth. It was innaccuracy by ommission. The figures were available all the time, and clearly show that the South Vietnamese army lost at least 50% more men from 1965 to 1968 than the Americans, and it was constant, week after week.
    I used to follow the figures constantly, and in only three weeks in three years did the Americans have more soldiers killed than the South Vietnamese. That is why I was determined to cover the ARVN fighting effort."

    At the beginning of a typical field patrol, Davis would be out on the streets of Saigon by 0630 checking to see if it was sensible to leave the city from a news point of view, that there was unlikely to be street riots or a coup-de'etat that day. By 0730 he was on his way to Tan Son Nhut, then the busiest airport in the world. Within the hour, he was on an aircraft or helicopter heading down into the Mekong Delta.

    "I'd land at a small airfield and make contact with the Vietnamese commander of the area to be briefed on what the local situation was, what units were there and where they were fighting - and what areas were controlled by the Viet Cong."

    Davis talked to the Vietnamese in a racey patois' of French, Vietnamese and English, and a great deal of body language. He used his hands constantly when he talked to people, Asians and Westerners. Communications with Vietnamese or Cambodians was never a problem for him.

    "By midday of the same day, I would most likely be in the field and I would stay with a Vietnamese unit for at least three days. There was no re-supply in the field like the pizza choppers for American troops. They really had pizzas and icecream helicoptered out to them - which was wonderful intelligence for the VC. Apart from the helicopters buzzing around and giving away their position, they could smell the pizzas!
    Some Americans used to walk with transistor radios playing through ear pieces- while they were allegedly on patrol in the jungle looking for the VC. Unfortunately they also carried far too much gear, at least 30kg of equipment, including very heavy flak jackets."

    Davis was with an American patrol once going through light jungle when he heard a black American soldier scream in fear. A twig had pulled the pin on a hand grenade strung on the back of his pack. He was a dead man from that instant. As he frantically clawed around behind him, the grenade exploded, tearing him apart. He was a victim of his own arms and armour.

    "In contrast to the American Barnum & Bailey circus, the average Viet Cong Soldier carried very little equipment. He had his weapon, a sock of rice, and his ammunition. He had no flak jacket, no helmet, or big boots, and was dressed in black pyjama's with rubber Ho Chi Minh sandals, enabling him to move quickly through a countryside he knew intimately."

    After 3 days of slogging across paddies or through the jungle, the Americans were usually exhausted and easy prey for fresh Communist troops.

    "The lightly equipped South Vietnamese soldiers could cover from 8 to 15 miles (13 to 24 kms) in one day. The Americans would be lucky to manage four.
    The Viet Cong had no respect for the Americans as soldiers. There were one or two American units - the Special Forces for instance - who were very good, and of course they respected them. But the average American units were treated with contempt because the men had no real jungle craft or sense of survival in the field.
    They used to call them 'elephants' because they would blunder around the jungle, and the VC could smell Americans literally a mile away - their toothpaste, cigarettes and shaving cream.
    But the ARVN troops were also Vietnamese, and many of the soldiers were peasant boys like the Viet Cong. Sometimes it was brother against brother.
    Actions speak louder than words, and in the Tet offensive of 1968, when the NVA and VC launched nationwide attacks and captured many towns and whole provinces all over the country, it was the South Vietnamese who held on and won back the territory.
    For the first time, Americans at a high level realised that ARVN troops could do it. That was the beginning of the policy of "Vietnamization", but they had left it too late. Before that, they made it clear they thought the South Vietnamese were the worst soldiers in Vietnam."

    The South Vietnamese often made camp just before sundown, but within minutes they would be off again, because it was just a fake camp. They would go forward for another hour and then set up an ambush for the VC or make a secret camp.

    "The Americans would bunch together at night and create a fortified camp with a defensive perimeter, which made them very vulnerable to mortar attacks. They used to surround themselves with Claymore anti-personnel mines, which could be set up to spray thousands of pieces of shrapnel toward an oncoming enemy. It only went in one direction.
    The Viet Cong would crawl carefully in and turn the Claymores around 180 degrees, and then mount a bogus attack with lots of noise and yelling. The Americans would often detonate the mines straight back on themselves."

    The Americans soon cottoned on to that little ploy, and put a tiny piece of phosphorus tape o the back of the Claymore so they could see it in the dark. Not to be outdone, the VC crawled forward as before, gently prising the tape off, and turned the mines around anyway.

    There were other cunning stunts.

    "Quite often American forces would go into a deserted village, which would look completely normal. But there might be a plough - a typical two handed plough - left very close to the track so that the soldiers had to walk around it. If you had a hundred soldiers walking by, there would be one who would take hold of the handles of the plough and pretend to be a farmer - and the whole thing would blow up, because it was booby-trapped.
    Or, they would walk into a house. Americans liked to have little souvenirs. There might be an Asian teapot on a table. A G.I. would lift it up, and it would blow up. This would go on and on, until they had a number of casualties before exchanging a single shot with the Communists."

    Medevac choppers would often be called in, usually in the village square. As the helicopters came in, the breeze created by the rotors would set off hand grenade which were positioned in the trees about 3-4 metres up to explode and disable the choppers or kill or wound the people already waiting in the open area below.

    "There were some good American units, and the American soldier could have been just as good as any other soldier if he'd had the opportunity and the training. It wasn't the G.I.'s fault, it was the system. The Special Forces were very good units, but even they were not allowed to do the job they were trained for, which was long range patrols. They were ordered to train ethnic mountain tribesman (Montagnards, or "Mountainyards" as the Yanks called them..Drusus) in the Central Highlands to intercept North Vietnamese troops and supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail.
    Consequently they were isolated in small base camps, and could be ambushed by Communist forces instead of being allowed to roam out as small, efficient fighting forces - which they had been trained to do."

    In it's own way, Neil's ARVN patrol was doing just that, moving deeply into VC territory and seeking contact. The general American approach was to saturate a target area with blanket bombing and artillery strikes and sometimes literally bulldoze through with earthmoving equipment..

    "They didn't kill very many of the enemy soldiers that way, although they did kill a lot of Vietnamese."

    The VC were no less sophisticated with booby-traps for their own countryman. Davis learnt very early on to tread in the footsteps of the soldiers in front of him. He even tried to avoid brushing the foilage along the track. If he felt any entanglement around his foot or leg, he stopped immediately.

    "It might be a very fine piece of cotton, (black or green), which you could hardly see, but it would set off a booby-trap - a mine - suspended in the trees. Or they might simply dig a pit lined with sharpened and poisoned punji sticks, in the same way as they'd trap wild animals."

    In the Mekong Delta, water crossings were an inevitable hazard in that low lying area. Many of the streams were narrow but deep. Being tall, Davis could usually hold his camera and sound gear above his head and wade chest high. Some of the ARVN infantrymen were about 30cm shorter than he was, and would actually disappear under the water for several steps, their gear held manfully over their submerged heads.

    "They were country boys and used to that sort of thing and it was quite a diversion for them. They didn't mind as long as the VC weren't putting them under fire. then it was a different matter."

    The ARVN patrols did not eat anything during the day, and breakfast was a handful of dried fruit, fish or 'jerky' - dried meat. In the evening, if they were not setting up an ambush, there might be some soup and rice eked out with weeds and some vegetables. Drinking water was from the paddies, purified with tablets.

    "The Vietnamese soldiers did, on occasion, drink the paddy water - but as a westerner I never could. I always had to remember to take tablets, because you could die of thirst surrounded by paddy water."

    Davis expected action on all his patrols with the ARVN, and generally got it.

    "There was always a contact of some kind. It depended on the area and what the intentions of the Communists were, because that governed the action. In the early stages they held to the tried and true Communist guerilla warfare adage - attack your enemy only when you have the strength and the upper hand.
    Therefore, if you were attacked while you were with a South Vietnamese unit, you knew you were at a disadvantage. And you also knew that you weren't going to get any strong air strikes or artillery support, because you were generally well out of range of help.
    Later in the war a conventional pattern developed in which the NVA, reinforced by VC, did attempt to take over complete areas and hold them to deny access to Allied force. But early on, it was pure guerilla warfare."

    The VC would usually attack late in the afternoon, when Neil and the ARVN troops had been walking through the paddy fields for 12 or 13 hours. they were hot, tired, and at a low ebb.

    "They would hit you just as the sun was going down so they could still see you and we would have a dreadful time through the night surviving. In the morning the attack would continue, but we usually managed to fight our way out of it.
    The ARVN lost a lot of soldiers in these clashes. Sometimes 30-40% of a unit were casualties- they never announced the number of wounded, only deaths. Sometimes their casualties would be as high as 50-60% - totally unacceptable in a Western army, but they had to be accepted by the Vietnamese. There was no other way. Nobody was going to come and help them out. They were either defeated and wiped out, or they got back.
    On many occasions it was not a question of defeating the enemy - it was a victory simply to survive."

    There were military successes. The VC had exceptions to their golden rules. Sometimes they would be caught in the advance of 2 battalions of ARVN troops - about a thousand men. One tactic was to leave behind small suicide units of VC to hold up the advance, while the main body withdrew and regrouped.

    "These small groups would hold up the ARVN advance and die to a man. Unlike the Americans, who always telegraphed their punches by blanket bombing or artilery strikes, the South Vietnamese would often move quietly into an area and take the VC unawares. Skirmishes erupted that way. But the big battles were always initiated by the Viet Cong."

    Neil's aim on each field trip was to centre a story on a particular character - one of the infantryman, the radio operator or a grenade thrower.

    "They had specialists in the field, but they weren't really trained in these specific skills, and had to pick up their expertise as they went along. Sometimes, an individual I had chosen for that kind of profile was killed during the operation.
    I personalized the story to try and get over to the viewer the hardships and humanity of the Vietnamese fighting the war - that they weren't funny little animals running around, as their allies liked to depict them. I wanted to show them as compassionate people with a feeling for their fellow human beings, for their families and for life itself - and for their own lives, even though they gave their lives courageously on many occasions."

    "Most westerners tend to forget that the Vietnamese soldiers on both sides were nice, simple people with ordinary human thoughts and desires. I tried to bring out the human element whenever possible."


    TET OFFENSIVE....1968....SAIGON...(Pages 161-162)
    "The Viet Cong committed most of their troops to that offensive. They controlled most of Saigon for several days and captured some other cities, but at enormous cost.
    The agents who had been here the whole time had to surface and were identified. After the towns and villages were recaptured, they had to flee. The Allies were in the best position they'd ever been in, but paradoxically the anti-war movement in America gained great momentum because of what appeared to be an Allied defeat.
    Most of the lost territory was regained by the South Vietnamese. That wasn't factually presented on most of the world's television sets. Most people believed that the Americans did most of the fighting. They did do a lot of fighting, but it was the South Vietnamese who physically recaptured most of the towns and cities, much to the surprise of the NVA and VC.
    Until the start of 1968 the Allies were allegedly winning the war and the media believed it. It was the Tet offensive that shocked them into the realisation that it wasn't so.
    The media at the time did a omplete turnaround. They presented the attack on the American Embassy as a moral defeat - I think they were right in that, but wrong in presenting the whole offensive as a military defeat.
    One immediate result was that the southern-born guerillas, the Viet Cong, were effectively destroyed. After that, it became a war with the North Vietnamese versus South Vietnam and America."



    Page 142-144.....Davis Covers The Australians and Koreans
    Neil Davis did not spend a great deal of time with Australian troops, but covered major news events such as visits of PM's Harold Holt and later John Gorton and the arrival of the Australian Task force at Nui Dat, on the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney. He had a high opinion of the operational efficiency of the Australians, but had to assess their contribution as a whole.

    "I didn't go out with the Australians much, because, relatively speaking, they didn't do much fighting. they did have two or three very stiff battles, but that was over a period of several years. As an Australian I was very proud of the Australian troops. They were very well trained, and they fought the people they were sent there to fight- the Viet Cong.
    They tried not to involve civilians and generally there were few civilian casualties inflicted."

    The Australians were highly trained in jungle warfare. They rarely made contact with each other by voice, but used hand signals. Unlike the Americans they did not wear flak jackets or helmets, so did not get tired on patrol. They also adopted a policy of not using jungle tracks, which Davis believed worked against them.

    Nevertheless, Davis conceded that the Australians did win military control of their designated area.

    "But when they pulled out, the area at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province reverted to VC control. They had not, in the phrase of the time, 'won hearts and minds of the people', but had limited success in the same way the South Koreans did."

    Neil spent more time with the 50,000 strong Korean ROK force in Qui Nhon than with the 6,000 Australians troops. He was one of the first foreign journalists to visit the Koreans in their operational area, and told ABC's Don Simmons to go and take a look at them.

    "Jesus. They're a tough mob of fuckers."


    Page 221......Davis returns from a foray after filming the VIET CONG
    "I came away with the feeling that the Viet Cong did represent the people - but no more than most of the South Vietnamese did. Both sides wanted the same things - independence, freedom, peace. But the big powers were pushing for an ideological victory. Communism versus so-called democracy. If they'd been allowed to settle their own differences way back, after WW2, the war in South Vietnam would almost certainly not have come to pass. They would have evolved and created an independant national government. But nobody criticises a country like Yugoslavia much.".....(End of extracts)



    Epilogue....Drusus Notes
    Contrary to popular belief, the ARVN and other South Vietnamese military organisations bore the brunt of the fighting in South Vietnam.
    It's still a matter of pride that the American military, and Australians, do not acknowledge this.
    Far too many Vietnamese and Westerners died in a senseless and brutal conflict; the world powers playing at dominoes with the lives of ordinary people on both sides.

    Neil Davis was one of the first to publically realise the true nature of the conflict in SE Asia.
    He went on to cover the fighting in Cambodia. He fell in love with Cambodia as a country (many have since said he will be reincarnated as a Cambodian), and married a Cambodian girl, Julie.

    He was wounded over 20 times, including a hospitalization for what the doctor called "The very worst case of jaundice he had ever seen.", and an artillery round that knocked him senseless and broke his leg in three places; his robust constitution and good field-craft pulled him through.

    He was killed in 1985 accidently by Thai government troops during a coup on the streets of Bangkok.

    He filmed his own death...........professional to the last.

    He was a humanitarian first and foremost, and his work and monetary support for the people of Vietnam and Cambodia, will long be remembered.
     

Share This Page