"You can take me out of Vietnam, but you can't take Vietnam out of me."
It may have been half a century ago, but the memories are still raw for Victoria's Wimmera region veteran John Finn, of Horsham.
The boy from Braybrook, west of Melbourne, lived a normal life: he played footy, liked his cricket, toiled at the markets, and enjoyed a drink with his mates.
He didn't know anything about Vietnam before his boots hit the ground.
Now his experiences linger over him.
"I've never wound down," he said.
"You can take me out of Vietnam but you can't take Vietnam out of me. Some Vietnam veterans come home and some are still over there. They are here but they are there."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Mr Finn was conscripted into the army at 20-years-old, joining the 7th Battalion bound for war onboard HMAS Sydney.
"Somebody said 'where are you going?', I said 'somewhere. I am off to Vietnam, it is somewhere in Asia'," he said.
"I knew nothing about Vietnam before going over there. Nothing at all. Not one solitary thing."
Mr Finn was born in Melbourne on October 2, 1945. He said his "old man did alright" considering he was born nine months and 14 days from New Year Eve.
He grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook, describing himself as a "lean, mean hungry guy from the Western suburbs of Melbourne" in a rough part of town.
Leaving high school at 15, he found work at a metropolitan meat market in North Melbourne, operating the switchboard and lumping meat.
Mr Finn came of fighting age when the National Service Scheme, known as "the lottery of death", was introduced by the Menzies Government.
Under the scheme, young men were made to register with the Department of Labour and National Service, who would draw birthday ballots twice a year.
If a boy's birth date were drawn, he would be conscripted to the army and be expected to complete two years of full-time service.
"I didn't really worry about it. I thought if it happens, it happens," Mr Finn said.
"I had a father who fought in the first and second world war and thought well, I might as well carry on the family tradition.
"I never worried about fighting a war. At that stage, I was up for it. I was having a fight a night at the Braybrook hotel and I thought there were more chances of me getting killed in the pub than in Vietnam."
Mr Finn was called to service in 1966.
He remembered going down to City Road, South Melbourne, passing protesters, on his way to complete a medical examination.
"There were women there that didn't want their sons to go, and university students yelling 'don't go, don't go'," he said.
"I said, 'hey mate, I don't really want to go anywhere, just because I am in the army doesn't mean I am going to Vietnam'.
"My father fought in both world wars, why shouldn't I go?"
He completed 10 weeks of basic training at the Puckapunyal Army base, followed by a further 10 weeks of core training.
During basic training, recruits were given three choices of what core they would like to join. Mr Finn said in typical army fashion at the time the choice was made for him.
"I never put down infantry and that is what I got. They'll still tell you that we had a choice. I had a choice to do what I was told," he said.
Mr Finn described the army training process as "absolute bastardry", with lieutenants intent on breaking down and re-building recruits by whatever means possible.
"The training was different. I had to get up early in the morning, I had to shave. It was bastardisation at its worst, they did all sorts of things to us," he said.
"I went out there one morning, and I hadn't shaved. The lieutenant told me to go back inside and bring out my razor. He told me to start dry shaving, and it didn't bother me too much; my skin is still smooth, and I had a light beard at best.
"He said 'is that hurting Mr Finn?', and I said 'I can't feel a thing, sir'. He gets my razor and runs it along the concrete, 'continue shaving' he said. I did until blood started coming out.
"That is what they were like. I never took them seriously, they must have thought I was a smart-ass."
IN OTHER NEWS:
After two six week exercises at Rockhampton, in Queensland, and jungle training in Canungra, Mr Finn was posted to the 7th Battalion, which was formed in 1965 in response to the Vietnam War.
He knew nothing about Vietnam before embarking on the HMAS Sydney.
Upon arriving, Mr Finn was made to undertake Tactical Area of Responsibility patrols around the base's perimeter. He remembered walking through rubber plantations and being told to watch out for 'hoop snakes' that supposedly put their tail in their mouth and rolled to chase you.
"I said what a load of bulls***, but most of these blokes were looking out for hoop snakes. I thought 'you are not from Braybrook are you?'," he said.
The fighting in Vietnam had been "all one way traffic" at Mr Finn's deployment.
Aside from doing patrols and monitoring the flow of fleeing civilians for weapons and ammunition, Mr Finn said he had not felt too much risk to himself.
"We had been killing Viet Cong at ease. We were a good unit I tell you," he said.
"Until then I was gung-ho, untouchable. It didn't worry me - I was out in the open getting shot at and I didn't care, I thought 'you are not going to get me'. I am pretty sure I was meant to be in the army."
Everything changed on August 6, 1967.
Operation Ballarat was a search and destroy mission conducted by the 7th Battalion from August 4-16.
Soldiers were to march on foot and establish an area of ambush for Viet Cong forces.
The battalion was successful in its covert insertion but encountered a large force of Viet Cong nearby.
The two forces, roughly equal in size, battled through dense jungle and monsoon rain in close-quarter combat.
Operation Ballarat coalesced in the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha, one of the bloodiest days for Australian troops in Vietnam and a moment that would stay with Mr Finn forever.
"A lot of those people, they had never ever recovered. I had a few mates who were out there with me commit suicide. That is when I sort of realised this is fair dinkum, I could get killed here."
Six Australian soldiers were killed in the battle. Afterwards, Mr Finn said his entire mentality changed towards the war.
"My mentality changed after Operation Ballarat. My outlook on the whole thing changed and I was absolutely switched on after that like you wouldn't believe it. You can't just switch off. There are certain elements of Vietnam that are still with me," he said.
"I've never wound down. You can take me out of Vietnam but you can't take Vietnam out of me. Some Vietnam veterans come home and some are still over there, they are here but they are there."
Mr Finn did not get the heroes welcome he expected when he arrived back in Australia.
"I found it absolutely disgraceful. We were disowned by every politician from Horsham to Cairns. The pollies didn't want to know about us. I was disgusted by it," he said.
He recalled the attitude in Australia at the time was one of shame. Silence about the Vietnam war at best, and being spat on and called a 'baby killer' at worst.
Finding it hard to deal with, Mr Finn withdrew from public life. He played one year of football for Sunshine on his return but eventually gave it away.
Mr Finn had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his experiences in Vietnam. Throughout the years, he has tried many different stress and anger courses, seen counsellors and doctors, but to no avail.
"I can remember seeing a counselor, a psychiatrist from the Austin. I sat down with him for an hour and talked to him about Operation Ballarat," he said.
"He said I had the worst case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he had ever come across.
"That is what he said to me."
In 1977, Mr Finn and his wife moved up to Horsham. He started a fertiliser business before joining the Horsham Safeway, where he worked as a storeman until retirement.
Since retiring, he and his daughter teach rock and roll dancing at the Haven Town Hall, a hobby Mr Finn has had since he was 15-years-old.
Mr Finn was a founding member of the Horsham Vietnam veteran RSL branch, formed in 1984. By the late 1980s, the taboo around Vietnam started to die down, with more people feeling comfortable talking about the topic.
"When we had our first meeting I couldn't believe it, a lot of guys I met at Safeway, I knew them but I didn't know they were veterans," he said.
"We didn't want people to know people we were Vietnam veterans; we were labelled as psychiatric idiots, so you didn't go around telling people we were Vietnam veterans.
"We just sort of looked at each other in amazement, because nobody talked about Vietnam."
Together with his fellows from the 7th Battalion, Mr Finn attended the 1987 Welcome Home Parade in Sydney, which symbolised wider Australia's acceptance of Vietnam veterans.
Since then, he has continued to volunteer his story.
"What I expect out of (telling it) is just acceptance," he said.
"I would like somebody to say 'well-done digger', the only three words I want to hear."
So to Mr Finn, 'well-done digger'.