Vietnam veteran Derek Smith developed a special connection to the country in which he once fought. Since 2007, the Townsville Sub Branch member has visited Vietnam 16 times and written a book about his wartime service that helped fund orphanages and community projects in the country
Vietnam veteran Derek Smith and his son Michael with residents of Bon Sai, Kon Tum Province, at the site of a well they helped fund.
I wanted to write a book for many years. Fortunately, I was a bit of a diary keeper, tracking time as a boy scout and high school cadet in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I also maintained a diary during my posting to 32 Small Ship Squadron, where I sailed to Papua and New Guinea in 1965, and to South Vietnam in 1966. I had two more postings to South Vietnam in 1969 and 1971. The diaries made writing a book seem like the next logical step.
My experiences as a POGO made a good read
I was a POGO (posted on garrison operations) – an Army Apprentices School trained clerk, hence the title of my book, A Twist in the POGO’s Tale. Given that I was a baby boomer growing up in the post-WWII period, and had such a varied time in the Army, I thought my experiences would make a good read.
There were many twists in my tale, and many strange and unexpected experiences. Lieutenant General John Sanderson, AC (Ret’d) kindly penned the foreword to my book. He wrote, “POGOs, like the author, could no longer be considered to be separate from the battle and had to be trained and ready to take their part in the action.”
I would not easily forget Vietnam
At the end of my book I wrote, “I felt a sense of sadness at departing. This place – my tent, in fact all my experiences in Vietnam – had been such a significant part of my life... I would not easily forget this country.”
And I didn’t. I have been back to Vietnam 16 times since 2007.
My book sales funded vital community projects
I connected with some Montagnard (ethnic minority) orphanages in Kon Tum Province, Central Highlands. I committed to giving proceeds from the sale of my book to orphanages and projects in Montagnard villages. With these funds and other generous donations, I funded five wells, a series of culverts, kitchens, dining rooms, dormitories, classrooms, infirmaries, ablutions and bakeries.
This work continues, and my book sales have helped me achieve this. It seems ironic that this country – once torn apart by wars, and in which I spent so much time as a soldier, albeit a POGO – continues to draw me back.