Remembrance. Between 1962 and 1975 more than 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War, including 2323 Tasmanian soldiers. Redpa born Stephen James Cocker OAM was one of them.
The Circular Head RSL WWI Centenary Committee welcomed Mr Cocker as a guest speaker at the Vietnam Veterans Day service earlier this month.
The day commemorates all those who served and died in the Vietnam War, and Mr Cocker returned to the region to share his experience.
Traditionally held at Anzac Park, this year’s service was moved indoors due to wild weather.
“It was 53 years ago that I went to Vietnam,” Mr Cocker said at the service.
He followed older brother Roger who enlisted first, then their younger brother David did the same.
Enlisting with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in his first posting, Mr Cocker says there was uncertainty as to when the troops would be dispatched.
“There were furphies going around, rumours going around about the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment being sent to Vietnam,” he says.
He and his comrades were sent on pre-embarkation leave to say goodbye to loved ones.
“It was the middle of June 1965 [when the] 1st Battalion battlegroup [was] moved into Sydney in darkness, loaded onto the HMAS Sydney and left at about three o’clock in the morning in total darkness.
“I, myself was loaded into the back of a truck [and] we were trucked out to the RAAF Base at Richmond.
“We pulled onto the tarmac . . . well the Boeing 707 wasn’t lit up, you could only see the little lights leading to it. So we marched up onto the plane and we then took off in darkness.
“That is how we went out.”
Upon arriving in Vietnam, Mr Cocker says a historic partnership formed.
“We were trucked out to an American airbase at a place called Bien Hoa and we created history there as the first time ever that a part of the Australian Army formed a part of the American Army. We became the 3rd Battalion to the 173rd Brigade.”
Mr Cocker served in 1965 and ’66 then with the 8th Battalion RAR in 1969 and ’70.
“Anyone who tells you they went to Vietnam and weren’t scared is telling lies,” he says. “We were petrified.”
For confidential support, Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service can be reached 24 hours a day on 1800 011 046.