These are the words on four plinths at the end of the Kokoda Track.
They are the embodiment of the ANZAC Spirit which was displayed on the first ANZAC Day at Gallipoli, were on show in France and Belgium later in the same war, in World War II in North Africa right through to the last battle at Balikpapan.
These same sentiments were shown in the South East Asian wars through to Iraq, Afghanistan and today in Syria.
What is it about those four words which, when taken together, are so unique to Australia’s fighting men and women – yes, we did have women in France during WWI, not fighting perhaps but Army nurses and volunteer Red Cross workers.
On the Sunday morning after ANZAC Day, I was asked this question in front of the whole church congregation.
Well, I had examples of each because, during my 12-plus months in Vietnam as an infantry ‘digger,’ I’d seen plenty.
Talking about Endurance was easy, so to sum it up, it’s taking one more step when you are utterly exhausted, just one more, then another and another ……. I went through several situations of complete exhaustion but while others could keep going, so could I, …. just one more step.
It doesn’t only exist in the military, it’s formed in many relationships but the mateships formed in war are something entirely different. You see, in war, your life can depend on your mate and his life is sometimes in your hands.
I’ve been home from war for 48 years now, but I served with blokes who became lifetime mates. We may not see each other for several years but when we do, there need only be a look, a nod or a handshake because we ‘know.’ We’ve been through it together, there’s no need to talk about it because we ‘know.’
Much harder to put into words. I saw acts of bravery deserving of hero status which weren’t ever noticed by those in authority. No medals, no mentioned in despatches, not even acknowledgement.
To top it off, the Australian Government put a quota on medals during the Vietnam War. No more than ‘X’ number of medals each month for bravery or meritorious service, no matter what the circumstances.
This policy has since received much critism and some steps have been taken to right the wrongs. Major Harry Smith, the Commanding Officer, Delta Company, 6 RAR at Long Tan on August 18, 1966, fought long and hard to have some of his troops recognised for their courage. It took almost 40 years and some had since departed this world but in the end he won.
Our pastor left the most difficult word, Sacrifice, until last, knowing full well I would find it difficult because he asked about those close friends who didn’t come home alive.
On June 15, 1969, our company moved into a small rubber plantation on the edge of a larger township called Dat Do. It was known to be a village of Viet Cong (VC) sympathisers and we were there to cordon off sections and search for contraband such as weapons, and caches containing anything valuable to the VC such as medical supplies.
On this operation I was the platoon radio operator and as such, was with headquarters section. With me was our medic, ‘Jacko,’ and sitting beside him was our acting platoon sergeant, ‘JJ.’ Some five or six metres behind me was a new reinforcement into our platoon, ‘Tim,’ who had been patched with me to show him ‘the ropes.’
Our acting platoon commander stepped on a mine right behind ‘Jacko’ and ‘JJ,’ killing them almost instantly. ‘Jacko’ fell forward across my legs, I looked at ‘JJ’ but my mind doesn’t remember what I saw. I was critically wounded, covered in flesh and body parts and over 100 pieces of shrapnel, rocks and dirt. I needed an operation to save my life but I lived.
Three died, including ‘Tim’ and 18 were wounded.
Why wasn’t I killed?
I was less than two metres from the mine crater, I should have been killed but the bodies of the two in front of me absorbed most of the flying shrapnel and what did reach me was either through or around their bodies.
To my way of thinking, that was sacrifice.
The Apostle Paul urged us to ‘fight the good fight,’ although I suspect he didn’t mean for us to go to war but each of us need to face up to a spiritual war every day. This ‘war’ will also take Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice.
When you can, read the book of Daniel, go past the lion’s den for which the book is best known and read about the war being raged about us every minute of every day.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 6 (now 7) grandchildren.
John Skinner's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-skinner.html