John Levitzke

John Levititzke certificate

Primary School – St Brigid’s, Midland
1958 – 1961  De La Salle College, Middle Swan
1967 – 1969  Conscription. Served, Saigon Vietnam
1970 – Leederville Technical College Perth,  Matriculation
1972 – Nedlands Secondary Teachers College, Diploma of Education
1975 – Teaching

Saigon and the Tet Offensive

From the 10th of October ’67 until late October ’68 I was posted to Headquarters, Australian Forces Vietnam (HQAV), Saigon. I was at  headquarters during the Tet Offensive, when the whole place blew up.

I can remember it well, because you’d wake up in the morning in the billet that was a former hotel Cho Lon known as the Canberra Hotel. On that morning it was very, very quiet. There was nobody on the streets, but they didn’t tell us what was going on. And also pre Tet, we weren’t allowed to carry arms. So we were not issued with rifles or anything.

So we had breakfast, got on the bus and then we were taken in the bus to Cholon on the Western bank of the Saigon River where we were working. And then they told us what had gone on. So by about one o’clock in the afternoon, they decided to give us rifles in case the place was attacked. A number of us were there for, I think, 10 days without even going back to have food. They brought food in, all C-packs and that kind of stuff. A field kitchen was then set up.

I can remember the first or the second night I was shotgun on a truck that went from there to the embassy where I was on guard that night. I think it was 10 days we were there without having a bath or shower.

Eventually they brought in a helicopter with food on it; dehydrated fish and tinned Vienna sausages. It was disgusting food. No fresh greens or anything. And chlorinated eggs. They brought eggs from Australia and put them in a container by the hundreds of eggs, and used chlorine to preserve them. So when the eggs were broken, you got this chlorine smell. Took me about five years to eat an egg after I came back to Australia.

So we were there about 10 nights. And we were on guard at night, two hours on, four hours off overnight, and then work all day.

In those days it was all paper and pencil and biros and ticker tapes and all that kind of stuff. There was no phones. The communication was pre internet.

We had to set the place up with explosives everywhere in case they attacked. So every desk had a big box of gelignite underneath and a fuse, so that if we had to evacuate, we had to blow the place up.

The first night I got back to the billet to sleep and the building was sandbagged at the front. Soldiers would come from Vung Tau to guard the building on a roster system. So they were at the front guarding, and we were able to get a night’s sleep. The first night we were going to get a good a sleep, the building was attacked by the Viet Cong. So that was the end of that. That went on for many days.

Next door to us at HQAV was a Buddhist temple and that was mortared a number of times. It was usually dusk and dawn when a lot of it went on. I can remember the first night we were on stand to on the roof of the building, and we had finally had our rifles issued. And then it was a dusk, you had to stand to at dusk and dawn. And then of course there was a huge number of helicopters flying around. And then as it got dark, there were tracer bullets fired.

Every fifth bullet was fluorescent. The whole sky was just like this unbelievable lit-up of lights flying from helicopters; from the ground to the helicopters, just this huge cacophony of noise and the lights. The biggest, best terrible fireworks you’ve ever seen.