I met a Vietnam Tunnel Rat once not too many years ago. I didn’t need to be told he was a veteran who’d had a tough time- I could see it in his pale blue eyes. He had the skin tone of a long term, hard, heavy drinker and he couldn’t look anyone in the eye. National Service conscript.
Always stood facing the door.
He lived in the small western NSW country town he grew up in. I liked him – he was a quietly spoken man and the small country community forgave him the occasional social wobble if you know what I mean. I met him one ANZAC Day in the tiny local country RSL. I didn’t tell him I had been in the Army and I wasn’t wearing my East Timor medals.
Almost every time you tell a really little kid you were in the Army they almost invariably ask two questions (usually in front of mortified parents).
- Have you ever shot anybody? And
- Have you ever been shot at?
I thank every god and whatever else you believe in that I am able to truthfully answer “no” to each question. I always take the time to explain to the little ‘un that while I don’t mind answering their questions, they should check with Mum or Dad if they want to ask the same question of anyone else.
Although there was that time when my husband unexpectedly walked around the corner of the house (presenting a silhouette of an unidentified man carrying a rifle) and nearly found himself on the business end of a cast iron frying pan.
My Tunnel Rat, with his long line of mounted medals, was not the kind of man you asked about his military service. We just had a couple of quiet ones.
I went home before he discovered what kind of fake I was.