The Road Ahead Sampler : April May 2014
QUEENSLAND'S LARGEST CLUB 15 APR/MAY 2014 THE ROAD AHEAD experience was two-dimensional. "When you come under artillery or rocket fire, it's pretty bloody frightening because you've got no way of retaliating -- just get your head down. In Korea, we copped a lot of that," he said. "The first time you come under small arms fire, you can exchange fire and give the enemy a touch up. You do what you're trained to do. "The second time is worse -- not just when the fight starts, but the immediate time leading up to it. You've seen casualties and now you know you're not bulletproof. You become very apprehensive. People tend to do the opposite to what they normally do -- go quiet or talk too much. But once the 'blue' starts, you're fine." After Korea, long and illustrious service took him to Malaya (now Malaysia) during the Communist insurgency and, ultimately, the bloody conflict that was to become the Vietnam War. There, his pivotal moment came in May, 1969, as a member of the Australian Army Training Team. A superior number of North Vietnamese regular army (NVA) surprised the company of indigenous Montagnard troops Warrant Officer Keith Payne was leading in an 'annihilation ambush', forcing them to fall back, taking (and inflicting) heavy casualties. He was injured on the hands and arms by shrapnel from an exploding rocket, yet managed to cover his troops' withdrawal and organise a defensive perimeter. Under cover of darkness, Keith Payne then scoured the battlefield for wounded soldiers, who were 'lying doggo' as the NVA moved about, still firing. He located 40 men, personally brought out some of the wounded and organised the rescue of others, actions for which he later received the Commonwealth's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. Of that fateful time nearly 50 years ago, the memories are still vivid; the pain and profoundness not something that can be easily downloaded. "It was pretty terrifying," he admitted. "I try not to talk about it nowadays." Among other decorations, he received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star from the United States, while the Republic of Vietnam awarded him the Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. An Order of Australia Medal was added in more recent years. Keith retired from the Australian Army in 1975, but saw further action as a captain with the Army of the Sultan of Oman in the Dhofar War. "The Communists were trying to take over the Gulf oil states," he said. "(Oman) was a British protectorate, so we weren't complete mercenaries. I was among mainly British officers. "It was an interesting time. I hadn't been in a fire fight since that night (when he won the Victoria Cross)," he said. "It (how he once again performed under enemy fire) made me feel good." After returning home to his wife Flo and five sons, Keith had to fight other battles of sorts -- dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and taking on the bureaucracy over his pension entitlements. "It can hit you any time," he said of PTSD. "You don't know what is going to be the trigger. The first thing is to admit you've got it. (And when it came to applying for a service pension) I had to fight my own case and was getting stuffed around. I thought, 'if I'm copping this, what must the other blokes have been going through?'" But out of a negative came a positive -- he used his collective personal Take part in the main parade if you can -- march, or be a spectator. For those who were lucky enough to come home, join in the happiness of their survival with them. experience and considerable profile to help other veterans and their families on both fronts -- dealing with personal demons and hacking through the red tape of regulation. "We all owe it to our soldiers to look after them a little better," he summed up. Last year, the reluctant hero brought up his 80th birthday in Mackay, where the local community, family, friends and visitors alike helped him celebrate fittingly. "I feel bloody lucky" is Keith's blunt way of describing his admission into the octogenarian ranks. "There were times when I didn't think I would make 19, let alone 80. I've had some very close calls. When it's your time, it's your time, when it's not ..." This year brings another milestone -- Keith and Flo's 60th wedding anniversary, which begs the question -- how important has an enduring marriage been to a life of living dangerously? "It's probably the most important thing," he confided. "She had to look after the kids, the finances, the house, while I was away." On April 25, Keith Payne VC OAM -- as always -- will be observing Anzac Day, something he urged all Queenslanders to do. "It's a day of remembrance and sorrow, especially the Dawn Service," he said. "It's a time when 'vets' remember fallen mates. Join them and feel their sorrow -- it will make you a better citizen." But as well as the solemnity, Anzac Day was, he said, also cause for celebration. "Take part in the main parade if you can -- march, or be a spectator. For those who were lucky enough to come home, join in the happiness of their survival with them."
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June July 2014