In May 2016, nearly 47 years on, Ray (Puku) Davidson recalls the events after being casualty evacuated by helicopter
from the ambush on the 24th November 1969 to Vung Tau Hospital and his evacuation to NZ via Malaysia and Australia.
The various responses in NZ are also included.
I woke up from the theatre in the casualty clearing station in Vung Tau, and an American officer came round to my bed
and pinned the American Purple Heart Medal to my pillow, saying thanks for our service, I was knocked out with morphine again
and when I came to a couple of days later the medal had gone, no one would say what ever happened to the medal but I can guess.
On the other hand I turned 21 on the 30th November 1969, a few days after the ambush and the nurses woke me up at one
minute past midnight on the day, with candles and a birthday cake, sang happy birthday, and had a few beers for me to celebrate
as I could not eat or drink, (I was due to have my 2 hourly Tetracycline injection in my left thigh, the only part of me not bandaged).
I swear that I thought I had died when the nurses woke me up for my birthday, the candles etc. The nurses treated us great
and the two Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps Nurses took special care of the kiwis.
We were transported by C130 to Butterworth Airforce Hospital, Malaysia from Vung Tau for a few days, the Aussie in the next bed
at Vung Tau had been next to me all the way. He was an Aborigine conscript and had lost a leg and an arm in a mine incident.
He was very bitter about things and gave the nurses a hard time and would not speak to the other Aussie patients but he sort
of opened up to me. (being a Kiwi I suspect).
He told me they would look after him when he got back but as soon as the authorities could, they would dump him back on
the reservation and forget about him, and how was he going to survive? I often think of him and how things worked out?
A Sapper one down the row, had been driving an armoured bull-dozer and it was so hot that when he hit a large mine he had his
shirt off and was skinned from the waist up, he had pig skin draped over him until they could do reconstruction work back in Australia.
Another grunt conscript had been on sentry duty in the bush reading a letter from his girlfriend, and a VC sneaked up and shot
him in the leg, he was a bit of a card.
Another guy had a severe migraine headache for 3 months non- stop.
Just before they loaded us back onto a C130 to go to Richmond Base Sydney, I had to be given another shot of Tetracycline,
the young nurse could not get it into my left thigh muscle which had gone black and blue from all the shots and my muscled
contracted iron hard, she bent 3 needles in my leg, broke off the next one, and ran away crying.
I felt really bad for her! I tried to say it was ok and I was sorry. Then a grizzled old Malaysian male nurse came back, laughed,
pinched my skin and threw the needle in like a dart, went in a treat.
So, because of that I was the last to be loaded on the Hercules. The stretchers were stacked about 6 high, as they are putting
me on, everything seem to be in panic mode and airmen were running round strapping things in, I heard the Aussie Base
Commander say to an airman; “what the bloody hell is going on?”
Turns out the Hercules we are meant to be on had gone unserviceable at the last moment and now we were on the spare.
It was a fifteen hour flight to Sydney so they knocked us out, trussed up like chickens, but I was woken every few hours
to get another Tetracycline shot and the nurse had to climb up the stretchers to get to me.
My Aborigine mate was on the one below me and screamed blue murder whenever she climbed up, I felt bad about that too.
The worst thing for me was when they took me into the operating theatre at the start, they gave me a shot that paralysed me,
I could not breathe or even blink and it was a relief when they took over the breathing but I could still hear and feel.
I was crapping myself!
At last I flaked out but they said I woke up screaming but the medics think the shock I was in had mucked up
the action of the anaesthetic.
Still makes me sweat when I have to have an anaesthetic even today.
The Aussies were very good to us all the way to Richmond Australian Air Force Hospital in Sydney. When we arrived at
Richmond they drove us by buses converted to ambulances to the hospital and a nurse was standing there saying which state?
When I said NZ she had a bit of a laugh, next an orderly came round and said what would I like for the next days’ meals
and I said what’s on the menu?
He said “no, you tell us what you want and we will ask you again if we cannot get it?”
The Air New Zealand staff were great on the DC8 flight across the Tasman, even holding the jet for me while the Aussie
ambulance got held up in Sydney traffic using lights and siren to get me to the flight on time.
On arrival the treatment in NZ changed to be very uncaring although The Major in charge of the hospital at Papakura Camp
risked court martial to get me a flight to Ohakea. He told me this himself, so individuals went the extra distance to help.
Tiny Hill came and saw me as I was isolated in a whole ward to myself in case of any infectious diseases I might have had.
I lost all my photos’ and slides and a good camera when months after being back, my belongings arrived at the Q store.
I was told to open my trunk in front of the quartermaster (the army was trying to bill me for all my lost kit), including an army
watch that was removed from me in the operating theatre.
I only brought back a set of Australian Air Force pyjamas which I was wearing, and they were confiscated by the Army Medical
Crew that took me by ambulance from Ohakea Air Force base to Palmerston North Base hospital. The Matron was not impressed
and startled me with her choice language to the medics about what she thought of that.
They counted by saying that was all very well but they had to account for the pyjamas (they weren’t even NZ Army pyjamas!)
so I arrived back with nothing but my skin, not even a tooth brush, and I still had not had a decent wash from being out on patrol
from the ambush, months before, funny now.
The Q store gave me a small amount of kit to go on with but never replaced the major stuff lost in transit, I had to pay for
the difference out of my wage. The trunk was half full of sea water and everything in it (not much as it been pilfered) was ruined
and covered with mould, when I complained, the QM said "stiff cheese and by the way, do you mind if I keep the butterfly set?"
(from Cameron Highlands). That was the only thing that somehow was not ruined and he then took the butterfly set,
and I never saw it again.
I cannot bypass Pam Terry. She was an inspiration then and still is today, I am sure she saved me psychologically
speaking when I was in shock and could not speak, she gently but firmly got me back on earth again and we see her
about once a year when she is down this way, we have talked quite a few times about various events and she has quite
a story to tell, she is now having to cope with a mass of memories and incidents that she witnessed.
In some way it helps me to get it out of my head but I would not like to hurt or offend anyone.
A couple of years ago when having a scan of some of the old injuries that are causing the odd bit of bother,
they discovered that I have shrapnel in my brain that was never picked up before.
Squirrel and his good wife Pat have become friends and they have helped me get my head around things a lot.
He turns up every now and then for a few beers and we talk about old times.
Ray (Puku) Davidson.
Kia ora Puku, Kia Kaha.
1. The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President
to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.
2. Stan (Tiny) Hill was an ALL Black from 1955 to 1958 and also a Regimental Sergeant Major in the NZ Army.
He served in Vietnam with 161 Battery, Royal NZ Artillery Corps.
3. Pam Terry (now Miley-Terry) was a Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps Charge Sister at Vung Tau Hospital. Aka White Angel.
She is an associate member of V4. Refer to page 249 of our book.
24 Nov 69 Kiwis in the ANZAC Battalion
When departing Nui Dat for their base at the Horseshoe as the direct support helicopter for 6 Battalion that day,
I was instructed to divert to investigate a radio report of a mine incident from a V Company call-sign requesting help.
The call had been whispered so the details were unclear. V Coy was composed of Kiwis attached to 6 RAR
and four of them had been patrolling with an ARVN Provincial Force Platoon.
On arrival overhead the scene was graphic. The ARVN had frozen in place, around the tree line of a clearing anxious about
moving in case there were more mines. If it had been a command detonated mine situation which was what it looked like,
the VC who had been waiting to ambush the group with the mine would be long gone but that is small comfort if you are
one of those that have been hit; especially if there was the possibility of more mines set to explode when disturbed.
I landed in the adjacent open area and shut down. The four Kiwi soldiers had been patrolling with the ARVN east of the village
of Dat Do when a mine was detonated by the Viet Cong as they passed. It seemed to me that the mine had been specifically
aimed to kill the Kiwis as the ARVN Platoon Commander and his interpreter next to them had been wounded
but the rest of the ARVN were uninjured.
One Kiwi appeared to have been killed and three seriously wounded. The senior Kiwi’s radio handset cord had been severed
by shrapnel. He had crawled 50 metres with a large open back wound as big as my fist to where the ARVN signaller’s radio was.
The ARVN soldier with it had refused to move to bring it to him. The Kiwi changed the frequency on the ARVN set and called for help. He got 6 RAR and because I was leaving Nui Dat headed to them for the day, they had sent me to see what was going on.
After talking with the senior Kiwi on site, I took off and got the 6 RAR V Coy medic from the Horseshoe and returned with him while coordinating a medivac helicopter. The medivac helicopter pilot was concerned about landing for fear of more mines until I pointed
out that I was on the ground shut down in the LZ where I was asking him to land so what risk there had been was greatly reduced.
My memory today is that one Kiwi survivor I talked to had major leg injuries. The first guy with the back wound had passed out
by the time I got back with the medic.
The last I saw of them all was on a chopper headed to the Vung Tau hospital. For 42 years the outcome has haunted me so
I began to dig for answers in New Zealand. Two died; Jerry Barrett and one in Vung Tau after amputation of both legs which would have been
Peter Rauhihi. Two survived; Ray Davidson and Paddy Smith. Paddy died in New Zealand in 1988.
It occurs to me that probably no one else has been aware what courage had been demonstrated by Ray who dragged himself
to the other radio to get help.
This incident remained deep down in my memory until my son asked me to explain the words to a Redgum song called
“I was only 19” written after I left the Army. As a family we had been out of Australia from ‘72 so the first time I heard it
was a brief trip home in 1986. When the words played about Frankie losing both legs to a mine, I could not speak.
When I started this book and reached this point, my daughter was curious about all the time I was taking with the detail.
When I tried to tell her the story, I broke down and wept. So the incident still hits hard and I hope writing about it
and researching other records will bring some sort of closure.
Paddy Smith related the story from the ground perspective in V4 Company’s book “A Soldier’s view of the Vietnam War”
which I have just received. His ground perspective of the incident makes for difficult reading.
Ray Davidson and the medic Tom Gordon have made contact. Ray is the only survivor. I have been able to meet him as part of the process of closure and it is planned that we will also meet with some of Peter Rauhihi’s family at the Shannon Marae in New Zealand.
The following is Ray Davidson’s recollection of the event written 14 march 2012.
The following is to the best of my recollection,the events of this incident that happened in South Vietnam, Phuoc Tuy Province, involving Australian Army Helicopter Pilot David Earley.
On the 23 November 1969 as a member of 2 Platoon Victor 4 Company RNZIR 6 RAR, I was tasked along with 3 other kiwis,
Peter Rauhihi,Jerry Barrett and Paddy Smith, to patrol with an ARVN Platoon to help mentor their efforts in the field.
I liaised directly with the Platoon Commander and our orders were to patrol an area South of Dat Do, so jungle clearing
by bulldozers could take place the next day.
We moved into the area and found a VC bunker system next to a small clearing in the jungle, we then set up a night ambush adjacent to the system. In the morning shortly after moving off from our position we were ambushed by the VC, it was initiated with a large Chicom command detonated claymore mine. Initially unconscious I came to and found all the kiwis in a bad way and several of the ARVN including the Platoon Commander lightly wounded.
My radio was chopped up by shrapnel in the blast, probably saving my life,so I crawled back to the ARVN who would not move
from the edge of the clearing, to use their radio to get help. I remember being quite incoherent but got a garbled message
out to try to get some artillery support and medical help for us all, as I could see that Jerry was probably gone, and Peter
was in a terrible condition, with myself and Paddy wounded and with some of the ARVN being hit, I was concerned
the VC would put in an assault and overrun our position.
I became unconscious again and came to when I heard a light helicopter landing in the clearing, this was a very brave act as
there was still some small arms firing going on, and the clearing could have well been mined or set up as an ambush/helo trap,
the Pilot was David Earley and we were very glad to see him, I seem to recall he moved around checking what had happened
and helping where he could. I again lost consciousness, then I woke up to the sound of the helicopter landing again,
the next I knew, Tom Gordon, (apparently transported by David) our company medic, was bending over me asking how
I was, I asked him to go over and help Peter and Jerry as I knew they were in worse condition than myself,
and then all was black again.
The next thing I remember is being lifted onto a stretcher and carried to a larger Dust Off (medical evac helo), I seem
to recall David was on one end of the stretcher. We were taken to the Australian Casualty Clearing Hospital in Vung Tau
where we lost Peter despite the best efforts of the medical team, I saw him go from my table, next to his.
I cannot put into words how graphic that day was, on top of all the other incidents that had happened previous, which I am
sure was the same for David. One of the N.Z. Nurses at the hospital that day, is starting counselling for PTSD here,
after all these years.
Paddy Smith has since died of cancer and has written his own account, I am the last of our little group and doubt very much
I would be here without David’s efforts, I was delighted after 42 years to hear from him, just to be able to say thanks,
makes it better for me.
Just a few pics of our trip to Pouto Marae yesterday. Unfortunately our marae ones were deleted so I am waiting to
get some from my brother Robert, Ray & Pat Symons and David & Nancy Earley who are all traveling at the moment.
The first one shows David Earley & his wife Nancy from Brisbane (161 Recce helo pilot, first on the scene of the ambush)
and myself ( not much hair these days) no 2 shows Nancy, me & John, (Ray Symons son, ex Afghanistan, told me
some really interesting stories about how things went in the Stan). No 3 shows John & Ray Symons and the fourth
shows Nancy, John & myself again.
The photos were taken at the memorial at Shannon which has Peters name inscribed opposite the local which we
visited after leaving some poppies.
David Earley is still quite affected by his PTSD but at the marae we were welcomed with a karakia followed by a mihi and answered by Dinny's, (my wife’s brother) Roger who can speak maori and a karakia. Peter's whanau and others from the
Iwi sat on seats on one side of the meeting house while we were seated opposite with Peter Rauhihi's photo between us.
I was then asked to speak which was very hard followed by David (the pilot) who found it harder followed by Ray Symons
who found it even harder! But the good thing about Ray (his wife Pat was also in support) was he managed to bring
in some humour after the earlier very sad accounts.
We then were invited to the eating house for afternoon tea as an uncle from the Iwi had passed on, the night before and
a lot of logistics were going on behind the scenes for the arrival of the rest of the Iwi & for the tangi, so we could clear.
We then drove down the back of the marae to visit Peter’s grave where we all said goodbye and laid a wreath.
I also found out about some our family are buried there and we were all told that as we were now whanau,
we were all welcome at any time without notice on the marae, which was very touching.
I must thank Ray & Pat Symons who arranged it all, we had several goes at getting there but were rained out previously,
but this worked out better as David & Nancy Earley were able to take part.
David & Nancy spent the weekend at our place and we had lot of talk about what happened up top, to help David with his PTSD.
We had arranged to take them to Ohakea for the air show but got stuck in the traffic jam for 2 hours so aborted and
went and had picnic lunch at the Pohongina Domain which worked out pretty good, meanwhile everyone who made it
to the air-show were texting us as they were interested in meeting David & Nancy, seems to be a curse on that!
On Saturday night we all met Ray & Pat Symons at the Palmy RSA and had a great dinner & entertainment after
which Ray presented the company book to David who found that very emotional.
David has nearly finished writing his own book and has an account of what happened and some interesting stuff that
pilots did in 1969 and has included a corroboration that I had been asked to write to help with his pension claims.
To view details of his book, visit http://dhearley.com
Today has been spent getting about 20 X-rays so they can try to do something about my back & legs and reflecting
on the weekend, I feel as though a huge load has been lifted off my shoulders and am tired now so will get some rest.
Please pass this on to any of the V4 guys who may be interested and thanks from all of you that have given support,
it has been much appreciated and I will be at the next reunion.
Cheers to you all,
Dinny & Ray (puku)
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