Falling into Sydney at 10.30pm on a cold July evening. I had not seen so many lights in a very long time. The streetlights broke apart the darkness. Twelve months in Vietnam at an end.
Mascot Airport would be my home for the night. At first light, I would carry on to Melbourne. That was the scene for many who came home from Nam. Fly in at last light and out at first. Out of the gaze of the public.
My trek home had begun in Nui Dat. It was dry – that red dust sticks in my mind as it would stick to my clothes. My home for the last 12 months had been a stores yard at the end of the Kanga helipad in the shadow of SAS Hill. I grew used to the sound of Huey all day and night.
On the opposite side of SAS Hill sat Luscombe Field – the main airstrip for Nui Dat. Rob Donaldson drove me to the plane that would carry me home. We had been tent mates. He still had three months left on his tour. I was leaving but I reasoned that he wouldn’t be far behind me.
The air was thick with Avgas and the noise was deafening. This was the biggest military airport of the time. Planes and helicopters rose and fell like insects . A ‘Wallaby Airlines’ Caribou droned up the runway. The Phantoms were the noisiest of all.
The humidity clung to me but I was used to it. The noise and activity were another matter. Gathering our gear, we were ushered onto the waiting Qantas 707. The flight crew was keen to clear the war zone as quickly as they could, and who could blame them. As the plane taxied they made us welcome.
When the TAA flight touched down in Essendon, I felt as if it was a dream. The airport was so quiet compared to Saigon. I had not seen my family since R&R back in March. My parents, brothers and sister were all there to greet me. Sue, my fiancé, hugged and kissed me.
She reminded me of the thin Vietnamese women only paler. I had got to know Sue intimately over the past 12 months of letter writing. It felt strangely good to hold her.
It was winter in Melbourne – 10 degrees – a far cry from the heat and humidity I had left behind in Saigon only 24 hours ago. The air smelt so clear and clean.
I was to discover that life had continued on without me. My workplace was like I had never left. No one had missed me, nothing had changed. I no longer fitted in. I had moved on. It was time for a family and some changes. My life needed to be more ordered and precise. I needed to control it.
I didn’t miss the army. I viewed the army as just another job I had to do. I just missed me.