Horsham veteran John Finn was conscripted to the army at 20-years-old.
He spent 343 days in Vietnam, where he would fight in the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha, one of the bloodiest days for Australian soldiers in the war.
For ANZAC day 2021, Mr Finn shared his story, from his upbringing in Melbourne to the battle that would leave an imprint on him for the rest of his life.
Read part one of his story here.
Mr Finn described the army training process as "absolute bastardry", with lieutenants intent on breaking down and re-building recruits by whatever means possible.
"The training was different. I had to get up early in the morning, I had to shave. It was bastardisation at its worst, they did all sorts of things to us," he said.
"I went out there one morning, and I hadn't shaved. The lieutenant told me to go back inside and bring out my razor. He told me to start dry shaving, and it didn't bother me too much; my skin is still smooth, and I had a light beard at best.
"He said 'is that hurting Mr Finn?', and I said 'I can't feel a thing, sir'. He gets my razor and runs it along the concrete, 'continue shaving' he said. I did until blood started coming out.
"That is what they were like. I never took them seriously, they must have thought I was a smart-ass."
After two six week exercises at Rockhampton and jungle training in Canungra, Mr Finn was posted to the 7th Battalion, which was formed in 1965 in response to the Vietnam War.
He knew nothing about Vietnam before embarking on the HMAS Sydney.
Upon arriving, Mr Finn was made to undertake Tactical Area of Responsibility patrols around the base's perimeter. He remembered walking through rubber plantations and being told to watch out for 'hoop snakes' that supposedly put their tail in their mouth and rolled to chase you.
"I said what a load of bulls***, but most of these blokes were looking out for hoop snakes. I thought 'you are not from Braybrook are you?'," he said.
The fighting in Vietnam had been "all one way traffic" at Mr Finn's deployment.
Aside from doing patrols and monitoring the flow of fleeing civilians for weapons and ammunition, Mr Finn said he had not felt too much risk to himself.
"We had been killing Viet Cong at ease. We were a good unit I tell you," he said.
"Until then I was gung-ho, untouchable. It didn't worry me - I was out in the open getting shot at and I didn't care, I thought 'you are not going to get me'. I am pretty sure I was meant to be in the army."
Everything changed on August 6, 1967.
Operation Ballarat was a search and destroy mission conducted by the 7th Battalion from August 4-16.
Soldiers were to march on foot and establish an area of ambush for Viet Cong forces.
The battalion was successful in its covert insertion but encountered a large force of Viet Cong nearby.
The two forces, roughly equal in size, battled through dense jungle and monsoon rain in close-quarter combat.
Operation Ballarat coalesced in the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha, one of the bloodiest days for Australian troops in Vietnam and a moment that would stay with Mr Finn forever.
"A lot of those people, they had never ever recovered. I had a few mates who were out there with me commit suicide. That is when I sort of realised this is fair dinkum, I could get killed here."
Six Australian soldiers were killed in the battle. Afterwards, Mr Finn said his entire mentality changed towards the war.
"My mentality changed after Operation Ballarat. My outlook on the whole thing changed and I was absolutely switched on after that like you wouldn't believe it. You can't just switch off. There are certain elements of Vietnam that are still with me," he said.
"I've never wound down. You can take me out of Vietnam but you can't take Vietnam out of me. Some Vietnam veterans come home and some are still over there, they are here but they are there."
NEXT WEEK: The story concludes with part three; Welcome home
Read part one here.
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