Warren Pearson shows the shrapnel holes in the bush hat he was wearing the day he stepped on a booby trap in Vietnam in 1966.
Warren Pearson shows the shrapnel holes in the bush hat he was wearing the day he stepped on a booby trap in Vietnam in 1966.

Warren won’t have to watch his step in Vietnam

December 8, 1966 is a date Suffolk Park’s Warren Pearson will never forget.

It was the day he stepped on a booby trap in Vietnam causing serious shrapnel wounds to his legs and face.

It put him in hospital for eight months, first in Vietnam and then in Brisbane and left him with shrapnel fragments in his leg as a permanent reminder of his brush with death.

And many years down the track, diagnosed with post traumatic stress, it saw his early retirement after 34 years with Australia Post, mostly at Grafton.

A forward scout and machine gunner with the 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, Warren, or ‘Wazza’ to his mates, was among the first group of conscripts to be sent to Vietnam.

On that fateful day more than 40 years ago, he and his fellow platoon members were given what was supposed to be a ‘nice little easy job’ patrolling alongside the road near a village called Ba Ria on the main road to Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – after just having spent two rugged weeks in the hills.

Riding on an armoured patrol carrier (APC), he hopped down to the side of the road, walked around the APC and in his own words ‘woompah’.

He remembers being blown up and being put into an evacuation helicopter and being told by a big African-American serviceman that he would be alright.

And he was of course, but it ended his service career and eventually he returned to civilian life.

Warren is returning to Vietnam next month, not as a soldier, but as a tourist with his wife Kay and two friends, and while it won’t be the focal point of the trip, he is hoping to find that spot on the road to Saigon where he stepped on the booby trap.

He knows that given the physical changes to the landscape over the years, it will be a difficult task, but thanks to a chance meeting on a Grafton golf course several years ago, he is hopeful.

After comparing stories, the golfer he was sharing a cart with amazingly turned out to be the driver of the APC when the booby trap exploded and who had meticulously kept a diary in which he had noted the co-ordinates of the spot.

Armed with that information and after visiting the site of former Australian bases at Vung Tau and Nui Dat, Warren will again take that road to Saigon and past the village of Ba Ria.

But this time the only thing he will have to worry about will be the traffic.

Warren still has a strong connection with his old army mates and he’s also deeply involved in the Legacy movement which helps widows and children of fallen servicemen. He is a member of the small band of people who make up the Byron division of Far North Coast Legacy and has been busy helping to organise people to sell Legacy Week badges tomorrow.

Among those who have put their hands up are 10 students from Byron Bay High School who will be knocking on doors at the Byron Bay Arts and Industry Estate tomorrow.

Members of the Byron Bay RSL Women’s Auxiliary will have a stall outside Retravision in Jonson Street from 9 am to 1 pm, several war widows will be selling badges in the Byron Bay CBD, badges can be bought at IGA at Sunrise and also at the Byron Bay Services Club at the Friday evening raffles.

Badges also will be sold at Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby tomorrow.

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