For Macca it "ripped his guts out” to leave a mate behind
WHEN Ballina's Macca McCallum finished his tour of duty in the Vietnam War in 1969, it "ripped his guts out” that he had to leave behind one particular mate.
That mate was a a four-legged soldier with the regimental number D6N03, tracker dog Caesar.
Caesar served in Vietnam from 1967-1970, but the black labrador-kelpie cross didn't come home.
He was re-housed at the British Embassy with a Royal Air Force group captain as the Australian troops pulled out of South Vietnam, but his fate following the North Vietnamese army's take over of the southern capital in 1975 is unknown.
Mr McCallum said he was proud the weekend before last to attend the unveiling at Ingleburn, south-west of Sydney, of a statue of Caesar near where the infantry tracker dog training centre once stood.
It's part of a tribute to war dogs.
Mr McCallum said the work of the tracker dogs in the Vietnam War was not well known, and he was pleased Caesar represented the 11 tracker dogs which served with the Australian troops in Vietnam.
Mr McCallum was part of the tracker dog team for the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, and he was Caesar's third handler of seven.
When 1RAR began its tour of duty in 1968, Mr McCallum was three months short of the minimum age of 19 to serve overseas.
With a background on a sheep farm near Dubbo, and used to working with sheep dogs, he agreed to be trained as a tracker dog handler at Ingleburn while he waited to be deployed.
He was teamed up with Caesar, a dog bought from a Sydney refuge by the army, when he arrived at Nui Dat in South Vietnam.
The role of the tracker dog teams, made up of a dog, a handler and two visual trackers, a machine gunner and a signalman, was to follow up on contacts with the enemy.
The dogs were trained to follow the scent of the enemy.
The dog, on a 10m leash to its handler, and the tracker team would lead troops through rice paddies or into the jungle, with the handler working with hand signals or tugs of the leash to work with the dog in silence.
Mr McCallum said he and Caesar just "hit it off”.
"He was a brilliant dog. And he was a brilliant tracker. He could follow an ant across a sandhill,” he said.
But quarantine restrictions meant that none of the tracker dogs returned home to Australia.