John Burns
Warrant Officer Class 2 (Retired)
Royal Australian Artillery

Vietnam veteran – two tours 1966-67, 1968-69
103 and 102 (Coral) Field Batteries

Australian Active Service Medal with clasp Vietnam
Vietnam Medal
Defence Force Service Medal with clasp
National Medal
Australian Defence Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Army Combat Badge
Returned from Active Service Badge

‘In 1961 I was working as a junior labourer at the Brisbane abattoirs, when a couple of work mates suggested I join them in their Citizens Military Forces (CMF) unit (now called Army Reserve). They said it was a lot of fun, a parade night once a week and a weekend bivouac every couple of months. I said that I was only sixteen and that enlistment age was seventeen, but my mates told me they didn’t check up on the enlistment form details, so I filled out the form and was enlisted.  So there I was doing an army driver’s course before my seventeenth birthday. Thinking about it much later, I thought that I could have been in big trouble for doing that. But I knew my mates who put me up to it would fight “to the last drop of my blood.”

During one of our annual two week training  camps, a corporal from a regular RAASC unit said I would make a good soldier and I should join the regular army. So, in April 1963, after serving 22 months in the CMF, I enlisted in full-time service. After completing recruit and Corps training, I was posted to 1st Field Regiment based at Holsworthy NSW as a gun number in 103 Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery.

In May 1966, the Regiment, with 103 Bty., was deployed to Nui Dat in South Vietnam as part of 1st Australian Task Force. A couple of months later, on August 18th, I was the Bombardier (Bdr.) 2ic of No. 5 gun when the Battery fired, along with the other batteries of the Regiment, in support of D Coy. 6RAR at the Battle of Long Tan where the fire order Danger Close was given to the guns. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops and the Viet Cong were advancing so close to our guys that extra precautions had to be taken on the guns to ensure that the shells fell where they were supposed to.

I returned to Australia as part of the advance party, the next year, on March 3rd, 1967, but after a few months I enquired if it was possible to go back to Vietnam. Major Gavin Andrews, Battery Commander of 102 Field Battery asked me if I would go with his Battery as Bdr. 2ic of – coincidently – No. 5 gun. So on March 3rd, 1968, there I was flying out of Sydney airport again enroute to Vietnam with 102 Battery, 12 Field. Regiment.

On May 12-13th, whilst on Operation Thoan Tang, 102 Battery moved to set up a new Fire Support Base named Coral. During the early hours of the 13th the Battery position was attacked by a large force of NVA soldiers and Viet Cong. During the battle No. 5 gun was ordered to fire Splintex rounds in defence  of the Battery position and also allow the remaining members of 1RAR Mortar platoon a chance to fall back to the Battery position. I believe I am the only Artillery member of a gun detachment to have been present and involved in both significant battles of the Vietnam War. 102 Battery was eventually awarded the Unit Citation for Gallantry, and permission was granted for the Battery, now a part of 8/12 Regiment RAA to be known as 102 (Coral) Battery.

Ten days after returning from my second tour of duty in Vietnam, on February 15th, 1969, I married my fiancée Valmai. We had two children, a girl Joanne and a boy, Paul and the family travelled with me on all my postings, which included Woomera, South Australia; Launceston, Tasmania; Queensland; and NSW.

After 23 years full-time service I retired from the Army as a Warrant Officer Class 2 and moved back to Brisbane where we bought our home. Since then I have been involved with Disabilities Ten Pin Bowling, where I have been president of Tryers League for the past 25 years. Valmai is currently President of “Bahloo”, an Indigenous young women’s shelter where she has been a Board Member for 30+ years.

We are the proud grandparents of four wonderful grandchildren. Martin, the eldest is a lawyer, two, Kelsey and Ella, are studying at University, and our baby girl Edwina is in high school.’