Paying the price decades after Vietnam service

Russ Duncan, Vietnam Vet. Photo: John Gass / Daily News
Russ Duncan, Vietnam Vet. Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass

THE Vietnam War would have to have been one of the most confusing wars in history.

With those who fought never really clear about their aim and a society in Australia that frowned on their participation in the unpopular war, many veterans were left traumatised and rejected.

Russ Duncan sat quietly last week at St Joseph's School, Tweed Heads as his grand-children received medals for their efforts to support their dad, Paul Chapman in his bat-tle against combat Post Trau-matic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his tour of Afghanistan.

But he too lives with the crippling disorder brought home from war.

"I'm very proud of my grandchildren," he said quietly.

But you could see in his eyes that the he knows only too well what his son-in-law is going through and the suffering it has caused his family.

"Vietnam vets didn't get the same understanding or support as soldiers get now," he said.

"But we also didn't realise just how huge the impact of PTSD was on our families.

"I had four children and I know they bore the brunt of my PTSD."

Mr Duncan was a bombardier with the 108 Field Battery, Four Field Regiment RAA, posted to Vietnam in 1967.

"We were trained to kill," he said.

The enemy was always called "Charlie."

He recalls a time at the tail end of his tour of Vietnam when he was at Ben Hoa, North of Saigon.

"One of my soldiers lost it," he said.

"He had the 'thousand mile stare.' "

"That's when they're looking at you but their eyes are looking through you, like they are not really there."

"I kept him low in a pit out of firing range and fed him, then let him sleep it off."

It was around this time Mr Duncan felt something was wrong within himself.

On the way back in the choppers, he saw a soldier step out of the chopper in front.

"I just thought it was time to step out, so I did the same."

The choppers were still in the air.

Russ fell a fair distance to the ground.

Put into rest and convalescence mode by the army doctor, he had his rifle taken from him and was kept away from explosives and firearms.

He thinks the catalyst in his PTSD was an event where women and children were killed in an ambush.

"When he got back through the wire to his camp, the Padre said it was "God's work."

"I really lost it and went for him," Russ said.

He couldn't stand anyone standing behind him and attacked a commanding officer who looked over his shoulder and, to this day, he sits with his back against the wall or in the corner.

"I still can't stand crowded places." he said.

Yet he suppressed his pain until 1987, despite being married with four children.

"I was one of the best trained soldiers," he said.

"There were very few 'blue on blue' instances."

The term refers to accidentally killing one of your own.

"But it did happen and was a traumatic thing," he said.

"We were taught to be very self-sufficient.

"You didn't think about the trauma.

"You kept going and suppressed the symptoms."

Mr Duncan lost his wife and daughter in 2010.

He still takes pills to control the shakes, but a big chunk of his support is gone.

His daughter, Kirsty died of cancer.

"My wife, Kaye died in her sleep," he said.

"It was terrible.

"I still talk to her.

"She was my best friend."

Topics:  ptsd veteran vietnam war

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Ocean Shores fours win a classic

CLASSIC: Carl Healey, Alf Boston, Kirk Olive and Cam Curtis.

Twenty-four teams met in the 2016 Ocean Shores Hahn Fours.

Beaches reopen following shark attack

Surfer Jade Fitzpatrick had a run in with a shark at Broken Head yesterday.

All beaches across Byron Bay have reopened today

The Living End are coming to Byron Bay

The Living End

The Living End are going on the road in 2017 for a regional tour

Local Partners

Rams and Wildcats in youth league football battle

The Byron Wildcats and Rams youth teams met their Mullumbimby/Brunswick teams under very dim lights in the Football Far North Coast Summer Youth League.

The Superjesus: Back with Love and Violence

DOWN AGAIN: The Superjesus are Paul Berryman on drums, Sarah McLeod on lead vocals and Stuart Rudd on bass guitar.

The Superjesus are back after 13 years

Jethro Tull is back to Bluesfest

ICONIC: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull at Bluesfest 2011.

Jethro Tull returns to Bluesfest next April

Beth Hart will set the stage on fire

ON FIRE: Beth Hart, coming to Bluesfest 2017.

American singer/songwriter Beth Hart

Kristie doesn't mind being the third wheel in Survivor final

Kristie Bennett in a scene from Australian Survivor.

SOLO player will take on Survivor's power couple Lee and El tonight.

Scary hoping Posh and Sporty will re-join The Spice Girls

Mel B

Mel B hoping Victoria Beckham, Mel C will re-join The Spice Girls

REVIEW: Michael McIntyre has Brisbane in stitches

Michael McIntyre in a scene from his TV series Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow.

BRITISH comedian is in the country on his Happy and Glorious Tour.

Cliff Richard doesn't need Rod Stewart's help with legal bills

Sir Cliff Richard

"'Don't worry, I'm loaded. I won't keep you to it.' "

Bindi Irwin named in MAXIM HOT 100 list

Wildlife Warrior named among Australia's most beautiful women

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June

New $200 million development will create 580 jobs

Cassie And Josh with baby Alfie and daughter Andee. They have bought at new Lennox Head development Epiq.

Majority of new positions will be given to Northern Rivers locals

Cherrabah's mega resort plans axed

PLANS for a massive development at Cherrabah have been scrapped.