As two veterans sat discussing the war that brought them together on the battlefield, it seemed as if they had known each other forever.
This week, Bega’s Frank Hunt was emotionally reunited with Bill Wilcox, one of the two men who saved his life after being severely wounded by an M16 anti-personnel landmine in the dense jungle of the Long Hai mountains in Vietnam almost 48 years ago.
Mr Wilcox was an engineer at the time and along with Johnny Needs, who was killed in action just minutes later, risked his life to save Mr Hunt, never thinking he would see him again.
“It’s been very emotional for me and I shed a few tears last night, but it’s been so wonderful to say thanks to the man who saved my life - it was him and Needsy,” Mr Hunt said.
Reunited, they shared the harsh details of events while always maintaining a keen sense of humour, and pieced together what happened that fateful day.
“Four of us were choppered in to get them out, but we couldn’t land because of the undergrowth and the worry about triggering more mines, so they dropped us down by winch,” Mr Wilcox said.
“Frankie was the first one we came to after Needsy led us through the area that was cleared.”
Mr Wilcox said at the time he thought their was no chance Mr Hunt would survive his extensive injuries.
During the meeting Mr Wilcox was able to put to rest a fear Mr Hunt had carried with him all these years – that he let down his mates.
Despite his horrific injuries Mr Hunt was still operating his radio when help arrived, despite only being given 10 minutes left to live by a doctor unable to read his blood pressure.
“I had holes everywhere, I was bleeding like a stuck pig,” Mr Hunt said.
“The first minute you don’t feel the pain, you’re acting on adrenaline because you have a job to do, you’re hot, then the stuff going into you bloody burns.
“I focused on my task, which was to get my mates out, but I knew I was bleeding because I could feel myself going. I kept doing my job and I’m proud of that.”
Before this week, the only thing Mr Hunt could remember of the day was an African-American soldier from the deep south slapping him across the face while in the helicopter in order to keep him conscious.
It wasn’t until the release by Australian rock band Redgum of their song I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green), Mr Wilcox realised he might be able to reconnect with Mr Hunt – over 30 years later the 68-year-old tracked him down, and it finally became a reality.
While clearing jungle, Mr Wilcox was also struck in the leg, hand and stomach by shrapnel from a mine and evacuated by helicopter.
He remembers spinning on his stretcher as he was flown to hospital high above the jungle canopy.
By the time of his discharge from hospital Mr Wilcox was told Mr Hunt had returned home to Australia - he knew he had miraculously survived.
It was the day man landed on the moon, and Mr Wilcox remembers American soldiers being distracted at the time by the radio broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“Naturally the Yanks were listening to the man on the moon coming and down, and weren’t real worried about what was happening below but we were getting word from Frankie about where they were,” he said.
Mr Hunt said there was an uneasy feeling ahead of the mission deep into mountains filled with Viet Cong tunnels and 20,000 landmines.
“Needsy said to me four days before he had a bad vibe, and didn’t think he’d make it back from the operation,” he said.