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Ex-Sailor reflects on Vietnam 56 years on

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Over 50 years have gone by since ex-Sailor and Bolton Clarke Fairview aged care resident John Oliver embarked for Vietnam.

After enlisting in 1956 with the Royal Australian Navy, another war was something that John says everyone was not prepared for as he reflects on the war for Vietnam Veteran’s Day.

“Up until Vietnam there had been a number of wars like Korea, but after that we thought it was all finished,” John said.

“We had never really been in a war like Vietnam up until then, so we didn’t really know what we were getting into. The whole thing was horribly wrong.”

John’s education at a Catholic school in Scotland was short-lived when he left to start his working career in a factory before enlisting in the Royal British Navy when he was 17 years old.

“I was a steward managing all the menus and the staff. It’s like a big family in the Navy – you all work together,” he said.

John left the Navy after experiencing wars that took him across the world throughout the 1940s, but found it difficult to settle back into a normal life with his family.

“I was reading the paper one night, and they wanted 2000 ex-sailors to join the Royal Australian Navy for six years – so I joined,” John said.

“When you enlist with the Navy and spend a lot of time in war, you don’t get to grow up with your kids and when you do eventually finish, you find it really hard to settle back in.

“When I re-enlisted, I was onboard the HMAS Sydney when she became a troop carrier for Vietnam,” he said.

The former aircraft carrier was brought back into service for three trips to and from Vietnam and with it John experienced the title wave of emotions associated with the conflict.

“When the troops came back, they were so happy and jumping for joy because most of them were young chaps,” he said.

“Once they got to Sydney, they marched them through the streets as a welcome home. But the crowds were throwing fish and stuff all over them. I had just been watching the same troops laughing and cackling for joy and then they were treated that way.

“They kept their heads up the best they could and even with tears rolling from their eyes, they kept marching on – it was horrible.”

For John, his career in service ended after the Vietnam War and after re-enlisting with the Royal Australian Navy, he decided to call Queensland home.

“I lived in Nambour for quite some time before retiring on a small farm,” he said.

“I go for drives with my niece and nephew now, they show me around Brisbane and I’m really well looked after here.”