Review by Takis Diakoumis.
Personal tales of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War have barely trickled out over the past forty years or so. Beyond a number of more official commissioned accounts, Australian stories have centred more on specific defining battles, like Long Tan or Coral, as opposed to the more drawn out tour experience of any one serviceman.
Bob Grandin was part of the initial deployment of 9 Squadron and its Iroquois helicopters into Vietnam in 1966. Having converted from the P2V Neptune, Bob flew his first contribution to Australia’s efforts in Vietnam in the Neptune as an armed escort to HMAS Sydney on her first voyage to South East Asia following the Australian Government’s initial commitment of one battalion.
Australia’s modest contribution of eight, later 16, Iroquois helicopters (compare that to the US with almost 12,000) was to form a critical part of Australian Army operations in South Vietnam, especially in support of SAS units dropped deep behind Viet Cong lines.
Bob’s gripping recount of his experience in Vietnam is an enthralling read that dips from the brutal reality of combat to the frustrations of those commanding. This is all interspersed with adjustment to civilian life and eventual acknowledgement of PTSD and its impact on later years.
Bob’s helicopter was one of two RAAF Iroquois to support the pinned down Delta Company in the battle of Long Tan – an important perspective of the battle from the helicopter crews rushing in the critical ammo resupply. The chaos leading up to the decision to support the battle highlights to good effect the overwhelming stress felt by command and the courageous decision by the aircrew themselves to volunteer for the mission in almost total disregard of the RAAF air commander on site.
Answering the Call continues with SAS insertions and extractions and the development of tactics to support Australian special forces on their critical reconnaissance missions. In one account, an SAS patrol is dropped, into the tall grass surrounding Nui Dat, directly into an ambush. The contact that follows includes helicopter gunship support and a rapid extraction as the helicopters circle back to pick up the patrol now under heavy fire.
Throughout the text Bob includes newspaper clippings from the time to reflect some of the events described in the text and provide a glimpse of what the public was reading back home. This, along with chapters on civilian life after Vietnam and the RAAF, perfectly frame a life of service to country as a soldier and, later, as an educator for challenging kids. This is a great Australian story told by an extraordinary Australian.