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


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Tapas: It's a Friday thing

TAPAS ANYONE? Tianna Dencher, Salima Muzima and Nedra Andersen at Harmony on Carmody.

$5 tapas night showcases diversity.

Browns Plains theft

Call Crimestoppers if you can help.

Stealing, Hillcrest

Do you recognise the person pictured?

Latest deals and offers

Coaching pays off

GROWING up in East Timor, Kerry Galhos could never have imagined how far the sport of tennis would take her.

Tapas: It's a Friday thing

TAPAS ANYONE? Tianna Dencher, Salima Muzima and Nedra Andersen at Harmony on Carmody.

$5 tapas night showcases diversity.

Browns Plains theft

Call Crimestoppers if you can help.

Stealing, Hillcrest

Do you recognise the person pictured?

New kids on The Block

WHIRLWIND: Rochdale's Will and Karlie in Port Melbourne on the set of The Block.

REALITY TV contestants often say they've had a "whirlwind” experienc

How you can play wish fairy

HELPING HAND: Candice Le will take part in the Browns Plains Real Estate Charity Golf Day for Make-A-Wish Australia.

Real estate golf day in name of charity.

Patti Smith confirmed for Bluesfest 2017

CONFIRMED: US singer Patti Smith performing in Switzerland last year.

Find out who else in the first line up announcement

Doco reveals real story behind Black Hawk Down

Former Black Hawk pilot Mike Durant shares his story, which helped to inspire the movie Black Hawk Down, in the TV series No Man Left Behind.

FORMER pilot recounts ordeal which inspired a Hollywood movie.

What's on the big screen this week

Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston in a scene from the movie Ben-Hur.

AN OLD classic returns to the big screen with a new young star.

Bachelor Richie gives bacon-loving Noni the boot

Noni Janur features on this season of The Bachelor.

TOOWOOMBA swimwear designer still single but focusing on her career.

Zumbo's Just Desserts serves up magical dishes

Gigi Falanga, left, joins hosts Adriano Zumbo and Rachel Khoo on the TV series Zumbo's Just Desserts.

ADRIANO Zumbo’s decadent creations have become prime-time viewing.

Sir Cliff Richard feels 'best' after sex abuse allegations

Sir Cliff Richard is 'back' to his best after sex abuse claims

Blac Chyna sued after car injured 2 women

Blac Chyna is being sued after her friend crashed into another car

ISLAND FOR SALE: Cheap Fraser Coast island drops price again

Suna Island in the Great Sandy Strait will be auctioned by Ray White Hervey Bay on Saturday morning.

This is the cheapest island you will find for sale in Australia

How a family home can fit on a 250sq m block

This is what you can build on 250m2.

Here's the floor plan of a home built on 250sq m

$100m plan for Curtis Island 'world class' luxury resort

$100 million resort: Top views at Turtle Street at Curtis Island.

"At the moment we think it meets all the town planning approvals.”

Coast building approvals at seven-year high: report

The the 2015/16 Development Indicators Annual Highlights Report documents local development activity that took place during the last financial year.

New report shows increasing development on the Sunshine Coast

Top honours for Mackay and Whitsunday builders

The Kerrisdale Gardens property from Paynter Dixon Queensland which won them Project of the Year.

Mackay and Whitsunday builders awarded top honours last night.

Investors eye Gladstone's $4m island with resort approval

UP FOR SALE: Turtle Island is on the market.

CHINESE and Sydney investors flag interest in Gladstone island.