Feature

Paying the price decades after Vietnam service

Russ Duncan, Vietnam Vet. Photo: John Gass / Daily News
Russ Duncan, Vietnam Vet. Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass

THE Vietnam War would have to have been one of the most confusing wars in history.

With those who fought never really clear about their aim and a society in Australia that frowned on their participation in the unpopular war, many veterans were left traumatised and rejected.

Russ Duncan sat quietly last week at St Joseph's School, Tweed Heads as his grand-children received medals for their efforts to support their dad, Paul Chapman in his bat-tle against combat Post Trau-matic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his tour of Afghanistan.

But he too lives with the crippling disorder brought home from war.

"I'm very proud of my grandchildren," he said quietly.

But you could see in his eyes that the he knows only too well what his son-in-law is going through and the suffering it has caused his family.

"Vietnam vets didn't get the same understanding or support as soldiers get now," he said.

"But we also didn't realise just how huge the impact of PTSD was on our families.

"I had four children and I know they bore the brunt of my PTSD."

Mr Duncan was a bombardier with the 108 Field Battery, Four Field Regiment RAA, posted to Vietnam in 1967.

"We were trained to kill," he said.

The enemy was always called "Charlie."

He recalls a time at the tail end of his tour of Vietnam when he was at Ben Hoa, North of Saigon.

"One of my soldiers lost it," he said.

"He had the 'thousand mile stare.' "

"That's when they're looking at you but their eyes are looking through you, like they are not really there."

"I kept him low in a pit out of firing range and fed him, then let him sleep it off."

It was around this time Mr Duncan felt something was wrong within himself.

On the way back in the choppers, he saw a soldier step out of the chopper in front.

"I just thought it was time to step out, so I did the same."

The choppers were still in the air.

Russ fell a fair distance to the ground.

Put into rest and convalescence mode by the army doctor, he had his rifle taken from him and was kept away from explosives and firearms.

He thinks the catalyst in his PTSD was an event where women and children were killed in an ambush.

"When he got back through the wire to his camp, the Padre said it was "God's work."

"I really lost it and went for him," Russ said.

He couldn't stand anyone standing behind him and attacked a commanding officer who looked over his shoulder and, to this day, he sits with his back against the wall or in the corner.

"I still can't stand crowded places." he said.

Yet he suppressed his pain until 1987, despite being married with four children.

"I was one of the best trained soldiers," he said.

"There were very few 'blue on blue' instances."

The term refers to accidentally killing one of your own.

"But it did happen and was a traumatic thing," he said.

"We were taught to be very self-sufficient.

"You didn't think about the trauma.

"You kept going and suppressed the symptoms."

Mr Duncan lost his wife and daughter in 2010.

He still takes pills to control the shakes, but a big chunk of his support is gone.

His daughter, Kirsty died of cancer.

"My wife, Kaye died in her sleep," he said.

"It was terrible.

"I still talk to her.

"She was my best friend."

Topics:  ptsd veteran vietnam war



He served his country but died a lonely death

BEFORE: A photo of Walter Derrett's grave taken in 1934 and printed in the Northern Star.

One of the saddest stories Tales from the Grave has uncovered

Busy year for busy bees restoring neglected duck pond

From left, Mark Bailey and Derek Goodwin of South Lismore Duck Pond Landcare with the Mayor of Lismore Isaac Smith.

South Lismore Duck Pond wins grant to continue much-needed work

Gen Xers more likely to 'chuck a sickie' to go to the beach

One in 7 Australians are more likely to 'chuck a sickie' to go to the beach.

One in 7 Australian workers have taken advantage of sunny weather

Local Partners

Un-American tale makes Lion weakest link in Oscars line-up

PSYCHOLOGY researchers find US films and actors most likely to win accolades at the Oscars.

Living End, Grinspoon stars hit stage for American Idiot

Chris Cheney of The Living End stars in the Australian production of Green Days musical American Idiot at Brisbane's QPAC Theatre.

TAKE a look behind the scenes of Green Day's American Idiot musical

Northern Rivers gig guide

PIRATE FLAG: The Hussy Hick's latest single is a crowd favourite that echoes a sentiment of political scepticism. Hear Pirate Flag at Tintenbar Upfront, Tintenbar Hall, tomorrow 7.30pm. $20.

What's on this week in local entertainment

Samuel L Jackson dismisses La La Land ahead of Oscars

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from the movie La La Land.

Hollywood actor and Oscars voter says Denzel should win top gong

Former Family Matters stare accused of child abuse

Reginald VelJohnson, left, and Darius McCrary arrive at the TV Land Awards on Sunday, April 19, 2009 in Universal City, Calif.

Darius McCrary has been accused of child abuse

The trick homeowners are using to buy more properties

Chantelle Subritzky leaves her home each week for Airbnb guests.

Queenslanders are going down this path to help pay their mortgages

Stunning home blends South Pacific beauty with Orient style

Immaculate residence with two outdoor living areas

$140k damage: landlord says property trashed, contaminated

He had what he calls "the tenants from hell"

Submarine, buses and 3000 tyres removed in $100K clean up

The list of things removed from this property is beyond astonishing

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!