Feature

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


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