Barry Heard: Changed by War

Barry Heard is a Vietnam Veteran who shared with the Year 10’s of Newington College his horrifying experiences of his involvement in the war. 

He told us of the conditions and roughness of the camp training and he told us the effects of the attitude of the army on new recruits especially from the country. These people are not used to the attitude of the army and they often break down under the physiological pressure exerted onto them by the army. 

After 10 weeks in base camp, Barry Heard told us that he was to be immediately shipped off to Vietnam. He was told that he wouldn’t be able to contact his family to tell him that he was going as that would be a “breach of security” in the words of the commanding officer. Once he arrived in Vietnam, he found base camp almost deserted as all the other soldiers had gone out into the jungle for 5 days. When he arrived he was treated with disdain by the other soldiers and wasn’t allowed to sleep on the empty bed. He was later told that the reason he wasn’t allowed to sleep on the bed was that the army didn’t hold any funeral services the way that the soldiers held a funeral service for their fallen friends was to make their beds. 

As the war went on Barry Heard told us about all the horrible things that he and his fellow soldiers did. Exploiting the Vietnamese people, killing civilians and perpetrating awful war crimes. He told us that on one day his company was ambushed by the Vietnamese and they lost almost half their soldiers. Half the company was replaced with new faces and the mood became sombre. Although they all loved killing and getting their company to the highest in the unit was always considered a great accomplishment.

Eventually, they were all sent home and the aftermath of the Vietnam war was almost as bad as living it. Veterans committed suicide on mass, and the public response to this was not all that encouraging. The public demonised these people and the Veterans were intensely abused.

Several of Mr Heard friends committed suciede during the time and after it. I think what Mr Heard’s story can tell us is that in war and peace the entire world could use a lot more compassion. 

By William Cordwell, Rueben Agius