JOHN Finn has been face-to-face with death on a number of occasions. He has come through to now teach Rock N’ Rollers how to dance.
Mr Finn served for Australia in the Vietnam War, or what he liked to call it, “the Vietnam Campaign”.
“They never declared war,” he said.
Mr Finn was called for national service in 1965 but wasn’t made a part of the army until April 20, 1966.
“I did 10 weeks of basic training, followed by 10 weeks of corp training and was put into infantry,” he said.
Mr Finn said he had three options to choose from, and he never chose infantry.
“It’s kind of like when people used to choose volunteers. They would just go ‘you, you and you’ and then you did your job,” he said.
Mr Finn was posted to the seventh battalion where he did two exercises and jungle training before being shipped to Vietnam on April 8, 1967, arriving on April 20.
He said there weren’t many words to describe his 324 day experience in Vietnam.
“I was a rifle man, I did everything in the section from acting second commander to number two to the machine gun. It was a harrowing experience to say the least,” he said.
“It all comes back to me on August 6. On August 6, 1967 we were on operation Ballarat. It had been good until then for us guys – no wounded – none killed… nothing.”
Mr Finn and the seventh battalion was ambushed, with six soldiers killed and 18 wounded.
He said he did all he could to help the dead and wounded but used the word “disgusting” and the phrase “worst day of my life” to describe the moment.
Since his time in Vietnam, Mr Finn has received counselling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety.
“You never forget it, but what you do is learn to live with it. It’s the same for anyone who loses a brother or sister prematurely… you never get over it, but you understand the fact and live on,” he said.
“There is not one day that goes by that I don’t think of Vietnam.”
Mr Finn said, when the Australian soldiers returned from Vietnam, they weren’t accepted or recognised by the Returned and Services League.
“My mates that didn’t go to war, that I played footy with, didn’t want to know me and couldn’t care less,” he said.
“Even then, as soon as I came back, I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I saw a lot of people get killed, I was probably one of the lucky ones. I had mates over there who said they were sh***ing themselves every minute they were over there.”
Mr Finn grew up in the Melbourne area of Braybrook. He said growing up in Braybrook helped him adapt to the life or death mindset in Vietnam.
“I had more chances getting killed at the Braybrook Hotel than I had in Vietnam… that’s what I thought to myself,” he said.
Mr Finn said his first welcome home parade was in 1987.
“I had been home for 20 years. What happened to the guys in the first and second World War? There were streamers and everyone getting p***ed. Not for us, I was snuck home in the middle of the night,” he said.
Mr Finn said he was locked up for two weeks during his time in Vietnam because he took a night he wasn’t allowed off.
“They had me scrubbing barbwire fences, (made me) build a sandbag wall in 110 degrees,” he said.
“You’re nothing when (you’re) a prisoner, you’re lower than a dogs’ guts.”
Mr Finn said he wasn’t the same when he returned home.
“I went back to where I worked and I was in a business where we made coffins… I didn’t really need coffins in my brain at the time,” he said. “I worked there for six months and then walked out.”
In recent years, Mr Finn has travelled to tell his story of being a frontline soldier and his experiences after returning home.
Mr Finn said, in his opinion, Australia should never have gone to Vietnam.
“It’s all bull. All those lives were wasted for the Yanks and us to pull out and say ‘thank you very much, see you guys later’,” he said.
“Over 58,000 Americans killed and over 520 Australians killed with 2500 to 3000 wounded, for what? There were many Vietnam Veterans that came home and committed suicide because they couldn’t adapt back to society at all.”
Mr Finn moved to Horsham in 1977 after his wife Marg received a teaching job at Murtoa, he opened a business called Betta Grower Fertilisers.
Mr Finn experienced a heart attack on November 29, 2014. “I was dead for 20 minutes. My chance of survival was less than 1.8 per cent,” he said.
“In April of 2015 I had a triple bypass. Two 90 per cent blockages and one 100 per cent blockage.”
There were two passions which kept Mr Finn active and on the edge of his seat – Richmond Football Club and Rock N’ Roll dancing.
“I have been rock and rolling since I was 15 years old. I used to go to three dances a week in Braybrook and Sunshine,” he said.
Mr Finn was a part of the Horsham Rockers and was one of the founders of the Wimmera Rockers Danceworld.
“We set up Wimmera Rockers seven or eight years ago. We rock out at Haven and I teach every Monday night,” he said.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.