At 20, Brookfield’s John Hodges was conscripted by the Australian government to serve in the Vietnam war. Now the Vietnam Veteran Association’s Melton president, he speaks to Sumeyya Ilanbey about life after that war, and the Long Tan anniversary.
What was your role in the Vietnam war?
I was a machine gunner in the 5th battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. I was conscripted when I was 20 years old for 12 months, between 1966 and 1967, and was patrolling the Thuctui province.
What were some of the hardest things to adjust to during and after the war?
Just assimilating back into the community. I was sick and tired of being ordered around at the army all the time, so I bought a tip truck. By buying a tip truck, I became my own boss. I came home, but a lot of blokes couldn’t. And a lot of blokes are still suffering from depression, anxiety and sickness due to the Vietnam war.
What are you doing now?
I’m sitting down. I’m 70 years old and I’m enjoying retirement with my wife, who is also my best friend. I have two boys, aged 42 and 40, who I’m very proud of, and I’ve got four grandchildren. Even though I’m not as young as I used to be, I play basketball and get on the trampoline with the grandkids.
When did you join the Vietnam Veteran’s Association, and why?
I joined about 20 years ago, but prior to that I was a member of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. It was like a brotherhood at the club – we all sought each other’s company. We could talk the talk and walk the walk that civilian people didn’t understand. We used to go to Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra. But just our club alone had 150 motorcycles – all Harley Davidsons. I then resigned from the club and joined the Vietnam Veteran’s Association Melton sub-branch, and have been thoroughly enjoying my time here.
Can you please tell me about the reunion you have coming up?
I was in Vietnam at the time of the Long Tan battle. Now, the 50th anniversary is coming up next year, and it looks like it might be the last full formal celebration year that we have by the Vietnam Veteran’s Association. We’re doing a graveside vigil in February and organising a push-bike ride from Seymour to Canberra. And on August 18, which is our Long Tan day, we’re going to have a march from St Kilda to the Shrine of Remembrance. I think we might have a bus from Melton taking us to St Kilda.
Our club has 109 members, but there still are Vietnam veterans who haven’t joined. We’d like them to come along as well.
What’s a typical day at the Melton branch like?
We’re just about pure mateship and having a good time. We have a barbecue every Thursday. You don’t have to drink beer if you don’t want to – have a cup of tea or coffee, talk to your mates. But, surprisingly enough, there’s very, very seldom discussion on the Vietnam War.
Do you have a motto you live your life by?
Honour the dead and fight like hell for the living.
For Club and anniversary celebration details, call 9746 9582.