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A soldier, his rifle, his recovery, his commemoration and his story

Vietnam War vet Doug McNally stands proudly in front of the eternal flame at RSA Franklin.

Worn, weary and rough - all words that can be used to describe the hands of a Vietnam War veteran.

Chatting to a man who has witnessed so much death, felt a little eerie. Not in the sense that I found my subject strange or unsettling. No - it was more about the unknown - not knowing the feeling of bullets whizzing past your head, as he described. Of claymores exploding, sending dirt and rubble into your face, and the sound of machine gun shells bouncing off themselves.

Pukekohe's Doug McNally is a soldier, and he survived the Vietnam War.  

Doug McNally fought in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1970.

McNally, who grew up in Te Awamutu, joined the army in 1964.  

 

Fed up with doing 'ordinary' work, McNally said he decided to join the army after seeing his dad fight in World War 2.

"As a young fella, I had a sense of adventure and wanted to do something different because I was just working on farms until I joined the army."  

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He was first posted to an air supply unit in Devonport, Auckland, where he spent most of his time dropping supplies to troops on Great Barrier Island. Two years later, in 1966, he moved to a transport unit in Papakura where he was responsible for troop carrying.

A few years later, he and some friends decided to join the Battalion Infantry in Christchurch, where they commenced combat training before being shipped off to Malaya to prepare for muggy weather in Vietnam. 

It was 1969, 14 years into the Vietnam War, and McNally was on route to his 12-month tour of duty.

Explosions, flying bullets, screaming, and then silence - no matter what time of the day, adrenaline was always flowing, said McNally. 

They lost seven men while on their tour. 

 

"When you're in the bush, where there is a lot of vegetation around, it's hard to see where these people are - you can walk into an ambush or a bunker system and then you have to try and get out again, and that's where you lose people," said McNally. 

During one gun fight, McNally thought his life was over. They were ambushed by the enemy at night and he made a "hasty" crawl to get behind his webbing and equipment where he then opened fire with his self-loading rifle. 

"They say that when you are able to see the flashes coming from an enemy weapon, it's 'good night Irene'. Well I saw those flashes, so I proved that saying wrong."

What he saw after the 'contact' however, shook him - his webbing and ammo had been shot to pieces. 

"There was a hole where a bullet had gone through it. To think that during the contact I was directly behind the webbing ... not a nice feeling."

McNally, who has been a member of RSA Franklin for 12 years, said he joined the club to help him find peace and camaraderie once again. 

He had suffered post traumatic stress disorder and nightmares, and he used to struggle talking to people about his experiences in Vietnam. 

Now, thanks to the RSA and Anzac Day, he said he has found himself again. 

"[Anzac Day] is about looking after the guys like you'd look after them when we were in the service ... meeting up with old mates that you might not have seen for 12 months.

"It means heaps to me. I always think about the guys that we lost, but you're thinking about them just about everyday - you don't forget." 

McNally will wear his medals with pride when he marches in Pukekohe on Tuesday, Anzac Day.

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