Mario Calleja

Mario Calleja certificate

Vietnam stories

Mario Calleja

I was called up for National Service and on the 1st of February 1967 flew to Victoria for recruit training at Puckapunyal Recruit Training Centre (RTC).

After three months at RTC I was assigned to Infantry Corps and transferred to Singleton Corp Training Centre.

On completion of Corp training, I volunteered to go to Ingleburn to the Reinforcement Holding Unit (RHU) and await posting to Vietnam. Whilst at Ingleburn I applied to do an Assault Pioneer Course which specialised in explosives, mines and booby traps, flame throwers and various demolition and assault preparation techniques.

After completing the pioneer course I was sent to Canungra, Queensland to do the Jungle Training Course after which I returned to Ingleburn RHU to await posting to Vietnam. My posting was to 2RAR(NZ) Assault Pioneer Platoon.

I came home on pre-embarkation leave, returned to Ingleburn and flew to Vietnam via Darwin/Singapore to Saigon. Then on by armed escort to the Australian Army Base at Nui Dat and joined my Platoon.

The Australian Infantry troops were experiencing casualties from mines and booby traps placed by the Viet Cong (VC) and so all patrols usually had one or two assault pioneers with them to handle these threats. Pioneers carried plastic explosives (C4) and detonation equipment to dispose of these deadly obstacles, as well as their personal weapons and bandoliers of ammunition for the M60 (Machine Gun).

By far the most extensive operation experienced was during the “Tet Offensive” when the VC almost overran Saigon and inflicted heavy casualties especially to the Americans. 2RAR was operational for about 21 days for the Tet Offensive and had heavy enemy contacts almost every day.

During my service in Vietnam, I received eight days leave. Four days were “in country” in a place called Vung Tau and the other 4 days were in Bangkok Thailand. Those few days were most welcome but made it very hard to go back on active duty when my leave ended.

The Battalion ended its tour in Vietnam and returned to Australia on board the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney which docked in Brisbane. 2RAR then was based at Enoggera, a suburb of Brisbane and they began training for its second tour of Vietnam.

Whilst at Enoggera 2RAR and New Zealand exchanged a company each for a training exercise and I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in New Zealand “training”.

I returned to Perth and was stationed at Campbell Barracks Karrakatta to await completion of my two year service and was discharged on the 31/1/69.

I then worked in the building industry as a tiler for 13 years, after which I joined the Prison Service working at all major Maximum Security Prisons until I retired on health grounds in 1998.