John Kinsela OAM  (deceased)
Wiradjuri and Jawoyn
Retired Gunner
Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery 1970-71
Retired Corporal
Army Reserve Commando Unit 1978-84
Vietnam Veteran

Medals and Awards
Medal of the Order of Australia
Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 – Vietnam
Vietnam Medal
Australian Defence Medal
Anniversary of National Service 1951-72 Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Army Combat Badge
Returned from Active service Badge

I am a Wiradjuri and Jawoyn man. We had a very close knit family. I was born in Surry Hills, Sydney in 1949. As a kid I was a little bit of a loner, so I ended up going to the Police Boys club to box. One night, I wandered upstairs to see the wrestling and asked when I could join. At 15 years old and came second in the tournament, only beaten by the state champion, the only time he ever beat me. I went on from there and at 19, I won selection for the Mexico Olympics (1968), it was amazing. After Mexico in 1969, I came second in the Australian wrestling championships.

That same year I got called up for National Service and in January I went to Holsworthy for artillery corps training. See, during corps training you didn’t fire a gun it was more the theory of guns, what happens with fire missions and what sort of jobs that you could be allocated. When they asked for volunteers for Vietnam, 90% put their hand up and I thought I’m not going to miss out, so I put my hand up. When we arrived in Vietnam, there was this smell that never left your nostrils until you left the country. We arrived at Nui Dat, then taken to our unit located in a support base called Horseshoe. We went past a place that must’ve had a contact the night before, and there was a whole heap of plastic bags. I asked what they were and was told dead bodies. Well, that was my first sight of dead soldiers and my first sense of what went on there. The second night they had a fire mission and I was put on a gun, it was the first time I went into action. One night we fired 250 rounds and supplied the illumination for the infantry so they could see what was going on. Our nickname was Drop Shorts because sometimes if you don’t put the right charge in or the right elevation or something goes wrong and you drop in shells that are too short you could hit your own men. I was there for eight months before coming back with my unit to finish my Nasho service.

It sort of prepared me for what happened when I was competing at the 1972 Munich Olympics when the Palestinian militant organisation Black September killed members of the Israel Olympic team and took hostages. I was in the Olympic village, in an apartment directly across and I watched it all happen. It was like Vietnam. I got a bit restless after that, so in 1978 I joined the Army Reserve 1 Commando Company. I was there for six years and reached the rank of corporal and was Commando of the Year (1981). After this I wanted freedom and not be in one place so I bought a van and worked as a courier. I was also a coach at Bankstown Police Boys Club, Mount Druitt and Hornsby. While I was there Hornsby won the best wrestling club in NSW, the next year Mount Druitt won. One of my boys went to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and at that time I was a volunteer at the games. In 2001 I retired from coaching. I’ve served on the Board of Wrestling NSW and my mate, retired police sergeant Wally Coney, asked me to coach with him at Mt Druitt (2013).

I had post-traumatic stress and had a breakdown in 2001. A friend said he was going through the same thing I was and put me into the hands of Vietnam Veterans in St Marys. Unfortunately, that’s the legacy of war. I’m getting a bit old now; my knees are gone, and I’ve had a shoulder operation (2012). I am involved in Indigenous social justice programs within my Western Sydney community and was awarded the Order of Australia medal (2017), in recognition of my service to wrestling and youth.