Ron Smith never saw the Viet Cong fighter who took his eye.
The bullets came out of a slit in the wooded landscape north of Saigon, with the shooter concealed and safe inside a labyrinth of tunnels only just discovered by Corporal Smith’s section.
He copped two bullets, one in the eyebrow and one directly in his right eye. He would later experience the horror of being able to see his right eye with his left.
There would be lasting damage to his brain and 14 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his head for life.
And yet, it could have been worse. If he’d fallen the wrong way he would have impaled himself on a line of bamboo stakes tipped with poison.
Instead he fell to the floor of the Ho Bo Woods, waking to the sight of his blood spilling down the incline.
It was January 8, 1966. Corporal Smith, of Corrimal, had been leading a cut-off party to stop the Viet Cong getting away.
Instead the Australian soldiers landed right on top of enemy headquarters.
On the ground, he briefly considered dying, but he decided he had to get home to Eunice.
‘‘I thought, I’m not going to die. I’d been away from Eunice for eight months and I wanted to go home and see her,’’ Mr Smith said.
‘‘I’ve been really lucky. I haven’t got a wife, I’ve got an angel.’’
Eunice and Corporal Smith were honeymooning on the South Coast when they read that his 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment would be joining the war.
She was devastated. He was too, but part of him wasn’t worried because, ‘‘It’s not me that’s going to get shot – it’s always someone else. You’re invincible at that age’’.
Corporal Smith’s was the first Australian unit to serve in a US formation.
He was one of the worst of 16 Australians wounded on January 8. Four others died. It would take Corporal Smith more than 20 years to come to terms with the death of one, a medic he believed he sent to his death by telling him of another wounded soldier needing attention.
Corporal Smith was evacuated to a MASH hospital and was not expected to live when the Australian 1960s pop singer Lynne Fletcher visited his bedside.
‘‘How are you?’’ she asked, cradling his hand.
‘‘No bloody good,’’ he responded. It was the first sign he might make it.
Before he returned to Australia, someone placed a Purple Heart – the US’s medal for servicemen wounded or killed in war – in his belongings.
At home, Mrs Smith had been visited by someone from the army. They came at 2am a day or two after the shooting to tell her her husband was hurt, badly, and that was all they knew.
‘‘All the army used to tell me was, ‘no news is good news’ – for weeks,’’ Mrs Smith said.
In Australia, he was sent to a military hospital at Ingleburn and later to Concord Repatriation Hospital.
He and Mrs Smith went on to have two daughters, Sheree and Leanne, and a granddaughter, Gemma.
They haven’t attended many Anzac Day ceremonies mostly because of Mr Smith’s bad health. As well, there was the anti-war sentiment that greeted soldiers returning from Vietnam.
In Australia, a lady spat at him once, and called him ‘‘murderer’’. ‘‘It broke my heart,’’ he said.
On Thursday, the Smiths hope to attend the Towradgi Bowling Club memorial service, if Mr Smith is feeling OK.
He says he loves the Anzac tradition, and how children are now so much a part of it.
He will think about his comrades and their shared experience, and the ones that are gone. ‘‘Nothing’s gained in war,’’ he said.
‘‘The only ones who gain are the people producing the gear to kill each other.’’