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The Vietnam War – George Franklin reflects on his time in the SAS

Story by Alistair Gray

Pictures kindly supplied by George Franklin

Bribie Island is full of many unassuming war heroes, in particular a number of those who served in Vietnam. With Anzac Day fast approaching, I thought talking to George Franklin, a Vietnam war veteran, would be fitting. George, president of the Bribie Island RSL sub-branch along with his sub-branch team provide invaluable support to the many Veterans on Bribie.

George greeted me with an infectious smile and a warm handshake, clearly someone who has lived life to the full. Now in his mid-70s, George enlisted in the Army at 17, a volunteer, unlike many who were conscripted and sent to Vietnam. He said he was looking for adventure and the propaganda of the government at the time suggested it would be fun. After rigorous training and a gruelling selection program at 21, George joined the 3rd SAS Squadron and served on operations at Nui Dat in Vietnam between February 1969 and February 1970.

“Warfare today has changed a lot from what we did. Vietnam was a counterinsurgency war, close combat jungle warfare, with five to six man patrols. You were at least 40 minutes from the nearest helicopter to get to you, so you were a long way away from any friendlies if you needed help,” George said.

“Sometimes we were even further away and operating outside of the province. Patrols usually lasted for 12 days. Today, it's a different warfare altogether. We had booby traps but they're nowhere near the severity of these IEDs today. I feel for the guys in Afghanistan and Iraq with the IEDs. They do close quarter fighting in relation to village warfare, which is totally different. The SAS still do the same type of training with every soldier going over there. We're very lucky on our carde which is a period of six weeks during which you apply or are involved in becoming part of the SAS regiment. We started with 38 on our carde and only four passed. Today, they have cardes of up to about 200 with probably 20 to 30 people passing. The selection is very, very hard,” George said.

Critical qualities are mental fitness, adaptability, teamwork, ability to think on the spot, logical thinking and actions and how you can make things work. All qualities critical to keeping people alive. They conduct all their training using live ammunition. George explained that you are part of a very close unit and the camaraderie is there for life.

“On Anzac Day I think of all the guys we lost in Vietnam. We were very lucky. We only lost four while we were there,” George said. “One was a good friend of mine, David Fisher, who fell off a rope on a hot extraction. Fortunately they found him, brought him back and buried him at Ryde, which was good. He was one of the MIAA the organization found. There was also a New Zealander and two others, one dying from illness and one from wounds. That was four casualties we had in our group. That's just from 3 Squadron in 1969-1970.”

The squadron was about 120 strong.

I asked George what his best memory of his time in Vietnam was.

“They had movies every night. So, when you weren't on patrol you could take a beach chair and go and sit and watch a movie with an ammo tin full of beer. Then the rockets would come in, all the lights would go out and you'd have to try to find your way back to your weapons pit. That was a fun day. Another one was when this guy who was an extrovert painted his tent hot psychedelic colours because the whole psychedelic era was in then. The OC of 3 Squadron came around on inspection and when he saw it, he said to paint the bloody inside green. So, he did. He painted everything, the spoons, his very rifle and anything around him green. The OC just put his hands up and said, “I have won him”. We had excellent commanding officers,” George related.

“Another great memory was being on patrol with the late Clem Dwyer, the sergeant who was a tremendous soldier. I woke up in the middle of the night with his rifle down my throat. Clem said, ‘you talk in your sleep once more and I will shoot you’. From that day on, I wore a bandage or a crepe bandage around my mouth every time I went to sleep. So, you're out there and there's nothing, and suddenly you're screaming. It's not good when you're in a close-lying place. Yeah, that was probably the funniest thing I could remember,” George said.

Coming home was extremely difficult especially with all the controversy about the Vietnam War. One of the hardest blows was when he went to join the Merrylands RSL and was turned away being told ‘we don't believe you were in a war, you were in a conflict’. As a result, George didn't join an RSL until he moved up to Stafford Queensland in 1989 joining the Kedron-Wavell RSL. He came to Bribie in 1996 and actively engaged with the SAS Association of Queensland. George said we have some other SAS members on the Island. Les Angel who served in the same Squadron as George in Vietnam, Sam Sherman 22 SAS, Clive Redgate from the New Zealand SAS, Denis Gould Australian SAS after Vietnam and John Blue Parrington. They are a small, close-knit community that keep in touch, watching out for each other. They have all had close calls. George, for example, carries shrapnel in his liver from Vietnam and like many who have returned from active service, prefers not to talk much about that chapter of their life. If you are interested George recommends reading Phantoms of the War, A History of the Australian Special Air Service by David Horner to learn more about operational details in Vietnam. It’s available on Amazon.

Finally, if you are encouraged to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park, across from the RSL under the helicopter, pause to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us all. While there, visit SAS Hill at the southern end of the park.

We shall remember them.


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