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Last Post Ceremony David Paterson
The Life of David Paterson
Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Contact 20th March 1971
The Gentle Giant David Paterson
My Memory of 2Lt David Paterson by Stacey Kruck

2Lt David Paterson
KIA 20th March 1971

Australian War Memorial
Last Post Ceremony
conducted for2Lt David Paterson on Friday 4th June 2021 at 1645Hrs.)

4718855 Second Lieutenant David Paterson, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment
The Story of Davids Paterson's Life

Today we remember and pay tribute to Second Lieutenant David Paterson.

David Paterson was born on 4 January 1945 in Port Adelaide, South Australia, the second of two sons born to Ernst and Dorothy Paterson.

Paterson attended Port Adelaide Primary School and later Woodville High School. He enjoyed swimming, played basketball at the St Claire Recreational Centre, and was a member of the Ethelton Swim Club, where, in 1966, he met Christine Weber, his future wife.

When Paterson graduated from high school he began teacher training at Western Teachers’ College, receiving his diploma days before his 20th birthday.  On 11 January 1965 he was accepted as the sole teacher at Mount Hill Rural School on the Eyre Peninsula. His students, of which there were 20, came to admire him for his unstinting efforts to guide and challenge them to achieve their best.

He settled quickly into the local community, assisted in organising local swimming carnivals and played Australian Rules football for Wharminda Football Club. He also played basketball in Cleve for the teachers’ team. With an imposing height of 6 feet, 6 inches, he could not be missed on field or court.

During his two years at Mount Hill he continued his studies and was twice given a deferral from his National Service obligation. Paterson began his National Service training in 1967. During initial training at Puckapunyal he was selected to attend an officers’ course. He became a member of Class 1/67 at the Officer Training Unit, Scheyville.

One of his fellow graduates later recalled, “during intensive training [Paterson] proved to be an outstanding leader and a highly competent commander, and his boys loved and respected him immensely.”

After successfully completing the course, Paterson was commissioned as second lieutenant on 14 July 1967 and posted as platoon commander to the Pacific Islands Regiment in Papua New Guinea. Here he played a vital role in educating local soldiers, particularly in the areas of civic and civil responsibilities.

Paterson completed his National Service commitment in January 1969 and despite his desire to return to teaching, he extended his commission, expressing a desire to serve in South Vietnam. He was posted as an instructor to the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra in Queensland where he spent the next year training men for service in South Vietnam.

On 4 October 1969, during a period of leave, Paterson married his long-time sweetheart Christine at Mount Carmel Catholic Church near Port Adelaide.

At the beginning of January 1970 Paterson was posted to the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) based at Woodside in South Australia. He was sent to C Company and was made officer commanding 8 Platoon. At this time 3RAR was being brought up to strength and undergoing extensive training in preparation for deployment to South Vietnam.

In September, Paterson and Christine welcomed their daughter Sarah into the world. But time at home was limited as 3RAR continued to train for its deployment. Paterson was part of 3RAR’s advance party that flew out of Australia on 11 February 1971 landing in Saigon the following day. The remainder of the battalion arrived later that month and began operations almost immediately after.

Paterson collapsed with heat stroke during the first patrol and his boots began to fail him. The size of his feet meant that he had to have boots made especially for him. With no spares available, he was forced to use tape and rubber bands to keep them intact.

On the morning of 20 March, after a five-day ambush operation, Paterson led his platoon back out on patrol. After an uneventful morning, a track with signs of recent of use was found, and a forward scout noticed an enemy lookout sitting on a rock. The lookout also spotted the Australians and ran into the bush.

Paterson decided to split the platoon. He led half of the platoon towards the noise while the other half, led by his platoon sergeant, approached from a different direction.

Paterson’s group dropped packs and advanced cautiously. As the men moved forward, they came under fire from automatic rifles, machine-guns and rocket propelled grenades.
Three men were immediately hit. Privates Alan Gould and Martin Macanas were wounded, and Paterson was shot in the head. Gould later recalled Paterson rolling over to tell him that he was ok but when he checked on Paterson again, he was dead.

The remaining members of the platoon engaged the enemy for several hours. Air support was supplied by gunships of No. 9 Squadron, RAAF, but locating positions on the ground was almost impossible. The diggers had used their only smoke grenade early in the contact and in an attempt to drop more smoke grenades to them, one of the gunships, was badly damaged.

It was not until close to 6pm when the wounded from 8 Platoon were evacuated. Paterson’s body was flown out separately. His men described him as an “exceptional human being… fair, sensible and enormously popular.”

His remains were returned to Australia. After a funeral service conducted by Chaplain Gavan Kennare, he was laid to rest with full military honours in Centennial Park Cemetery, Adelaide. He was 26 years old.

Paterson’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with more than 500 others from the Vietnam War, and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Second Lieutenant David Paterson, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section
(Story supplied by www.3rar.com.au & Service Records)
Last Post Ceremony 4th June 2021
Australian War Memorial
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The Life of David Paterson
Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Contact 20th March 1971
The Gentle Giant David Paterson
My Memory of 2Lt David Paterson by Stacey Kruck

The Life of David Paterson

David Paterson was born in Port Adelaide on the 4th of January 1945 to Mr
Ernest Mathew and Mrs Dorothy Paterson. He had an older brother, Peter. David attended Port Adelaide Primary school and then Woodville High School.

He enjoyed swimming, being a member of the Ethelton Swim Club; and basketball, playing at the St. Claire recreational centre.

After graduating from school, David immediately began teacher training at the Western Teachers’ College. A few days before his 20th birthday, he graduated from college and was accepted into a one-teacher school in Mount Hill on the 11th January 1965. Whilst there he continued swimming and basketball and also took up football for his local football club. The posting at Mount Hill lasted for two years. During this time he began travelling to Cleve and continued studying. It was because of this study that he had his National Service postponed twice. He loved his teaching and the students adored him.

David on excursion with students from Mount Hill

A fellow veteran after returning from Vietnam went back to Mount Hill to interview David’s students and found, “David is remembered with great fondness who enriched and valued their communities…It was very clear to me that David had left a lasting impression on these students”. In 1966, David met his future wife Christine at the Ethelton swimming club.

Photograph: Ernest Mathew Paterson, Christine Weber, David and Mrs. Dorothy Paterson

In 1967 David was conscripted to National Service with the Australian Army and selected for Officer Training and posted to Scheyville Officer Training College. The 5 month Officer training is demanding and a gruelling experience for national servicemen who showed particular positive aptitudes and academic potential..

A fellow platoon commander stated, “During intensive training, [David] proved to be an outstanding leader and a highly competent commander, and his boys loved and respected him immensely.” It took 12 months to finish officer training, but after completion he was posted to the Pacific Islands Regiment. This post took David to Papua New Guinea where he played a crucial role in educating local soldiers.

In February 1969, at the completion of his National Service commitment David decided to enlist into the Australian Army full time and was posted to the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment which was located in Woodside, South Australia.

On the 4th October 1969 David married Christine Weber, his long-time sweetheart. It was while he resided in Woodside that his daughter Sarah was born on 12th September 1970. 2Lt David Paterson was the commanding officer of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company when the 3rd Battalion RAR was posted to South Vietnam arriving there about 2nd February with the advanced party. The remainder of the platoon along with second in command, Sgt. Claude Hoppe travelled the 10 days aboard the Naval aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney (HMAS Sydney was aircraft carrier converted to carry cargo and troop to and from the Vietnam War campaign.)

2Lt David Paterson was respected as one of the best mappers in the Battalion with an ability to pinpoint locations as being crucial when destroying the enemy positions and keeping artillery away from our allies. In the thick jungles of Vietnam, this skill was vital. David, or as he became known in the military as “Dave” or “Paddo” was also known for his massive stature, standing over six foot, seven inches tall. He had ginormous feet which had grown to shoe size 18! His mates made the joke that with him nothing would happen if he was shot because his whopping feet would keep him standing.

The 3rd Battalion en-mass proceeded on its first in country combat Operation on the 5th February 1971 with all companies proceeding through the protective wire of the Australian Task Force Base of Nui Dat. The operation would assist in practising orientation, allow the troops to develop routines and to assist in acclimatising to the tropic heat and humidity. It was during this period that 2Lt David Paterson suffered heat stroke. Initially he could not take in any water and it took him several days to recover but he stayed in the field and opted for conducting a prolonged ambush in static positions until fully recovered.

In early 1971 the Australian Task Force reduced its commitment to Vietnam by one battalion, to two active battalion in Vietnam.

On the morning of the 20th March 8 platoon Charlie company patrolled a section of well defined road before observing an overgrown Ox cart track that ordinarily would not have activity upon it. 2Lt David Paterson elected to follow up and patrol the well defined but overgrown track A short time later forward scout of the lead section Pte Alan Gould observed one individual sitting on a rock next to the track. The individual having spotted Alan took off into the bush surrounding the track. David Paterson decided to follow up on this individual which resulted in a contact a short time later.

Forward scout Pte Allan Gould kindly offered his first-hand experience of the contact as follows:

Pte A Gould. Forward Scout WIA 20th March 1971.

“We had split the platoon into half with Sgt. Claude Hoppie taking the other half and the Skipper (2Lt. Dave Paterson) with us. We heard what we thought were woodchoppers and knowing it was a No No Zone we figured they were VC.

The Skipper formed us up with the gun on the high side, him in the middle and me to the right of him slightly forward (as I was the forward scout) trying to make out what was ahead.

We fired a couple of M 79 rounds and moved forward and then all hell broke loose. I got hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and went down in a screaming heap. Everyone hit the deck. In the initial volley of RPG, M79, machine gun and small arms fire Allan Gould was very badly injured so much so that he felt he was not going to make it. Pte Martin Macanas lost his index finger whilst holding his gun to his chest. A bullet had obliterated his finger that was holding the trigger, but it nevertheless shielded Martin’s chest.

2Lt David Paterson and Pte Alan Gould lay where they fell with the rest of the half section platoon falling back to consolidate a position to regain advantage.

The Skipper (2Lt David Paterson) rolled over to me (Pte Alan Gould) and told me I was OK. When I saw him next he was dead. The enemy we later found out was a reinforced NVA company with a heavy weapon section including a 12.7 mm MG (Machine Gun) dug in, in a reversed U so the half platoon had walked into what essentially was an ambush. I was in the middle of the killing ground with the section gun firing over me for protection as the NVA were attempting to get to me. All I remember after seeing the explosion and the Skipper dead after he tried to reassure me was rolling on to my left side (I was hit in the lung and it was sucking).They told me later we were out there for 6 hours before the Armoured cav came in and picked me up to lift me to the LZ (Landing Zone) for medivac. For that whole time the guys covered me and the Skipper with the gun and their own weapons and I was also told our section commander tried to pull me back but was taking fire from the 12.7 and could not do it. That's about all I remember, apart from feeling really cold on the chopper and waking up next to a NVA in the next bed.”

During the ambush, with 2Lt David Paterson lying mortally wounded under the enemy intensive fire, a handful of his soldiers courageously tried to pull him out of the hot zone. Seeing that these men would inevitably become casualties themselves if they tried to pull them out, David Paterson ordered them to leave him and escape. It was an enormous act of selflessness and courage. He died trying to save his brothers.

The rest of the patrol escaped by lying flat on the ground and defended their position. The half platoon in contact had discarded their packs some distance from the contact area and were fast running out of ammunition and smoke grenades needed to indicate position for the helicopters. The VC may have believed they had eliminated the Australian soldiers and prepared to debunk the position now that they had been discovered.

9 Squadron RAAF helicopter gunships were summoned in support and provided two active gun runs before succumbing to multiple damages to the aircraft and mortally wounding pilot Flight Officer Ronald Betts, a co-pilot, who severely wounded was flown to a Fire Support Base where he was pronounced deceased.

Another soldier from Charlie Company records his final view of David Paterson: “The last view of David Paterson that I had was his body laying face down in the back of an APC with the sole of one boot flapping. His boots had worn out and replacement boots had not arrived; he had one boot held together with rubber bands.”

David Paterson had a lasting impact on every single digger he encountered through out the Battalion and beyond. His men described him as an ‘exceptional human being…fair, sensible and enormously popular. He could have spoken in front of anyone, from a cleaner to a King’

Lest We Forget, Second Lieutenant David Paterson.

Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Audio File: Authentic audio recording of the radio communications that occurred between the various participants
on the ground and in the air during the 20th March 1971 contact. The main individual heard clearly is Col Peter Scott. CO 3 RAR 1971 located in the helicopter above the contact. Ground communications are difficult to hear or not audible.

Redirections for this page:
The Life of David Paterson
Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Contact 20th March 1971
The Gentle Giant David Paterson
My Memory of 2Lt David Paterson by Stacey Kruck

2Lt David Paterson
(Webmaster: Tony Cox www.3rar.com.au)

Possibly taken at Scheyville Officer Training College

I was a member of the Reinforcement Unit, Ingleburn, NSW when I was posted to 8 Platoon, Charlie Company of the 3rd Battalion RAR in Woodside, South Australia immediately prior to the Battalion embarking for a tour of duty in South Vietnam. I did not meet 2Lt David Paterson personally until we were on operations in Vietnam. 3 Days after arriving in Vietnam task force base of Nui Dat we walked out through the wire for the first time and immediately began patrolling for an extended period of time. Getting used to the climate was not easy and the tempo placed on operations caused fatigue. 2Lt David Paterson suffered greatly with the heat and the humidity. I recall seeing him exhausted on the night of the 2nd March 1971, the evening Lt. John Wheeler and Pte Paul Manning were KIA. 2Lt David Paterson's boots had failed. The sole of the boot had peeled away from the front and David had secured it with tape or elastic bands. It would have been uncomfortable and a constant hinderance for him.

A week prior to the 20th March, 8 Platoon was "awarded" an ambush position that lasted for 5 days. I said awarded because everyone was exhausted whilst getting acclimatized whilst performing aggressive operations. The ambush position required the utmost attention by at least half of the platoon day and night but it was during this 5 day ambush that I finally met 2Lt. David Paterson. Pte. Ray Barry and 1 were having a quiet conversation when 2Lt David Paterson came over to us and joined the conversation. Ray, like me, was also a Reinforcement from Ingleburn, NSW and had joined the same platoon at the same time as myself. 2Lt. David Paterson talked about his family and other matters including the chances of being KIA on this tour were very remote. I learned that David Paterson knew several of my extended family.

Pte. Ray Barrie & Pte Tony Cox Departing Adelaide on HMAS Sydney

On the 20th March I was "tail end Charlie', last man at the end of the patrolling platoon line. The platoon had been patrolling since dawn on this day. The Platoon had patrolled for a short time on an open road and then an ox cart size trail was realised heading to the north, and so we followed. Not being at the front of the platoon I can suspect that recent tracks may have been present. At that time the trail was of sufficient size to be interesting and to allow Ox card travel, but the trail was heavily overgrown from both sides which did reduce forward visibility. I was not always tail end Charlie. Patrolling platoons would normally have 3 sections which changed over rotating the lead section hourly. It was just my section's turn to be last section and my turn for tail end Charlie duties.

The patrol proceeded normally along the track, weather was sunny and warm, no rain, visibility clear and the trail seemed to widen the further we went. I would have anticipated that the 2Lt David Paterson would be watching the forward scout, Allan Gould, and ensuring compass direction and distance was accurate so that he could provide a good "loc stat" location at the next stop. "Loc stat" is a grid reference provided to Company HQ each hour or at times of contact. Impossible to grid reference from location points distance and direction reckoning was a practised skill. The loc stat was coded and radioed hourly.

Tail end Charlie often spends most of his time walking backwards watching the rear for enemy following or to stop the platoon from being attacked from the rear, or the sides. I was doing just that when suddenly I backed into the soldier in front but behind me and whilst falling to the ground, I noticed that "enemy" signal was being given by nearly every soldier along the line. Enemy had been sighted sitting on a rock that lay beside the track some distance away. The platoon scout and enemy soldier spied each other at the same time. The scout propped where he was and went to ground sending enemy signal back. The sighted enemy escaped west into scrub.

It was at this point that 2Lt. David Paterson decided to split the platoon into two parts. 2Lt. David Paterson took the front sections and platoon HQ and Sgt. Hoppe the last section. The plan, I believe, was to approach the suspected enemy position from two directions. 2Lt David Paterson would front the enemy and Sgt. Hoppe would come in from the south and route the enemy. I liked the plan. I thought it was good tactics.

Infantry platoons consisted of 3 sections and a platoon Headquarters during this time. Each platoon section contained at least 7 to 9 men and company HQ possibly 6 to 8 depending on attachments.

It was acceptable practise during part of the 3rd Battalion tour of duty to split platoons into two half sections allowing more search and destroy options considering the large areas being patrolled at the time. Platoons were sometimes depleted of personnel for various reasons which could place a half platoon in harms way if contact with a large enemy force occurred on a depleted platoon. On this day 8 Platoon was patrolling as a full platoon. It is was only once the enemy had been sighted that the platoon was split into two, with the intention of hitting a possible enemy position from two angles. It was a sound infantry textbook tactic and one well rehearsed during infantry training.

We quickly peeled away from the front half of the platoon and moved silently into the bush a reasonable distance west and turned right directly towards where the enemy should have been according to the plan. I was the last man in the section half of the platoon and I had completed the right hand turn which meant that the second half of the platoon was moving very quickly east into position for the attack. Not long after completing the turn all hell broke loose.

Ref: AWM95 7/3/69 - 1-31 March 1971, Summary of events, Duty Officer's log

I recall hearing a swish bang sound followed by a screaming sound of gunfire as though we had stumbled into a hornet's nest. It was rapid, deafening and constant. I clearly heard the sound of an RPG fired and exploding. The second half of the platoon at this point seemed to collapse onto itself. The front soldiers had propped and because we were all following so quickly, we really all fell over each other with faint cursing. I immediately collected myself and moved away from everyone else, stretched myself out onto the ground, made myself a small indentation onto the ground and watched my ark of fire in case the enemy tried to circle us and come in from the rear. I did not look to the front therefore I can not ascertain the distance to the contact area from my present location.

As a private soldier it is up to ranked individuals to provide the orders. On this day my only regret was that we seemed to remain in location for far too long and did not provide covering fire for the platoon section under fire. I was all for moving forward and equaling up the contact to favor the Australians and I regret that we did not do that. I could hear some two way radio traffic but not enough to know what was happening.

The second half of the platoon of which I was apart were on the edge of the contact area and had been ordered to hold fast by the Battalion Commander, Col Peter Scott, possibly to avoid confusion and to block enemy withdrawal which is logical. Cpl. R. S. (Russ) Petty had assumed command of the contact.

Ref: AWM95 7/3/69 - 1-31 March 1971, Summary of events, Duty Officer's log

Col Peter Scott (Radio call sign 9) was on scene very quickly in his helicopter and giving direction from his vantage position. Col Scott worked hard getting the reinforcements required to support the platoon in contact. Fellow Charlie Company platoons 7 (Radio call sign 31) and 9 (Radio call sign 33) were each encouraged to move to the contact position as was Maj. Peter Tilley and his Company Headquarters group. These platoons left caution and moved quickly, at a run of about 500 to 1,000 meters to close the gap as quickly as possible. I recall scouts from 7 Platoon (Call sign 31) arriving looking harried, red faced and short of breath. The jungle surrounding the contact area was very dense. A superhuman effort. APC' and medivac reinforcement were on way and attempting to medivac the wounded. (A transcript of the radio contact transmissions will be provided soon and posted to this site page.)

Battalion Commanding Officer Col Peter Scott and Commander Officer Charlie Company Maj. P Tilley 1971.

The contact was at close quarters in a tight killing ground so there was very little room for artillery however the two 9 Squadron RAAF helicopter gunships came in, one at a time, and did their best to route the enemy and relieve the half platoon pinned down and under constant enemy fire. It was on the second pass that the helicopter gunships were badly hit by ground fire and Pilot Officer Ronald Betts was mortally wounded. The helicopters left immediately to medivac Pilot Officer Ronald Betts.

The helicopters would begin their run somewhere south or our position and passed directly overhead the grounded half of the platoon where I was lying, waiting to move. The helicopter machine guns were firing rapid fire machine guns above us as they passed over and I recall being scalded by the dozens of hot shell casing as they landed on the troops below burning our skin with red welts on areas unprotected by our clothing and down our back under our shirts. Swearing and growls could be heard along the line. I don't recall rocket fire.

Eventually the call came for us to move forward. Sgt. Claude Hoppe wasted no time moving forward and the platoon joined up and swept the bunker system clearing it of enemy, secured the area and went on with business. There was no time for individuals to comprehend the consequences of that battle. It was late in the day following the first real contact that the platoon had been involved in since arriving in country in February 1971. A safe night harbour was a first priority. Company HQ and platoons harboured together that night. Everyone was a little stunned and dealing with their emotions and thoughts. Correctly the platoon was ushered onward and operations continued under the command of Sgt. Clause Hoppe.

A harbour is a defensive position adopted by platoons before last light for night defence. A position is selected for its tactical advantage and the platoon members are positioned in a small circular defensive style very similar to circled wagons only its people. Each position can see the next position and trails link each position. Two persons per position, M60 machine guns also specially placed for defence. Same process adopted for a company harbour or Battalion harbour. The circle just expands.

2Lt David Paterson vanished from our lives on that day as did Pilot Officer Ronald Betts and WIA Allen Gould and Martin Macanas. There was no funeral or service of any kind for us in the bush. They had just gone from our sight. Allen Gould, who suffered life threatening injuries and Martin Macanas were evacuated wounded and repatriated back to Australia. Following that contact 8 Platoon received new members and continued on with the tour of duty. The daily routine of search and destroy became just another day in the office so to speak with some days being more adventurous than others.

Pte M Macanas WIA 20th March 1971

The 3rd Battalion RAR had commenced in country operations on the 27th February 1971. Charlie Company would not return to the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat again until the 20th April 1971 completing approximately 53 days full time combat ready bush operations before proceeding on a break of just a few days.

In 1971, an infantry soldier on operation meant that we had minimal communications with the outside world for the duration of the operation apart from written letters which we sent out every 5 days when we would receive a resupply of rations and sometimes munitions. (In modern times soldiers can talk and video family or friends whilst in country.) It was many weeks later before we returned to Nui Dat base for a few days off before again going out on operations. There was no time to mourn or think about the past. Every day was filled with drama and was dwelt with in time depending on the gravity of the thoughts and feelings experienced by each man. There was very rarely a show of emotion and some emotions never healed..

It was around 1997 that I travelled to Adelaide, with Ray Barrie and Peter Zapolskis and had the opportunity to meet several former members of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company and some former Battalion members. Mrs. Dorothy Paterson, David's mother attended this impromptu memorial and I was honored to speak with her for a time. We were both very emotional, but Mrs. Paterson recalled that she knew David might not survive Vietnam because he was such a big man. We gathered at the grave side of 2L.t David Paterson and held a Memorial service. The day David Paterson died in 1971 was a life changing event for so many people directly associated with him and others not closely attached but affected all the same. A family tragedy the gravity of which was understood and felt by everyone. In 1997 when we held that memorial service in Adelaide, we began to believed that we may have finally held a funeral for David Paterson. 26 years had passed.

2Lt David Paterson was indeed a giant. He was a gentle giant. A gentleman. I believe if David Paterson had survived Vietnam, he would have always made sure that the members of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company 3 RAR Vietnam 1971 were held close and made family. He is missed by everyone.

Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Audio File: Authentic audio recording of the radio communications that occurred between the various participants
on the ground and in the air during the 20th March 1971 contact. The main individual heard clearly is Col Peter Scott. CO 3 RAR 1971 located in the helicopter above the contact. Ground communications are difficult to hear or not audible.

The Gentle Giant David Paterson

(1/67) The following extract from the book FLASHBACK by Peter Haran & Robert Kearney, appears courtesy of New Holland Publishers, who with the authors kindly gave permission for this extract to be published in The Scheyviltian.
John Neervoort (1/67-2/67) was a friend of David at OTU in 1967, has met both of the authors and arranged for this extract.

Lieutenant David Paterson hoisted his backpack up onto his enormous frame and prepared to lead his men out on patrol. The National Serviceman was commander of 8 Platoon, C Company, 3RAR. Your first impression of him was his size - he topped six feet, six inches, and his boots were especially handmade to fit his size-15 feet. He was a gentle giant, a family man who spoke lovingly of a wife and baby daughter and regularly attended church services. His platoon sergeant was Claude Hoppe. The platoon had been on operations since February 27, 1971; it was now March 18. The previous weeks had been spent patrolling and ambushing - heavy and frustrating work, but with no contact. Paterson and Hoppe wondered when they would see real action.

Patrolling north-west of Xuyen Moc on March 18, Paterson and his platoon stumbled upon a large enemy bunker complex. Paterson had found an empty one, but the recently abandoned cooking fires indicated it hadn't been long vacated.

'About time we found something - and time we had some action,' one of 8 Platoon's soldiers said to Hoppe. The sergeant knew in his guts his platoon was going to get action soon enough - the ingredients had been shaping up for days; tracks with fresh boot marks, sporadic contact that other platoons had experienced in the Xuyen Moc area, and the number of bunker systems that had been found. 'It'll happen soon enough, mate,' he replied.

Paterson called an O Group, and the decision was made to split the platoon into two groups to cover more ground. Hoppe would lead one group, Paterson the other. This doubled the number of grid squares that could be searched in one day. It was an acceptable practice at the time but also a potentially dangerous one. With the chance of hitting an enemy party no more than squad size - five or six - the Aussie half platoon method had merit. But Paterson remembered that at Canungra Jungle Training Centre he had been warned about decreasing the size of a fighting patrol to anything less than 15 men. The posted strength of a rifle platoon was one officer and 33 other ranks, including the platoon sergeant. Through attrition, transfers, sickness and lack of reinforcements, 8 Platoon was already down to 25 men. Splitting also meant that one of the groups had only one M60 machine- gun. There were three M60s to a platoon, and getting a fourth issued was almost impossible, as additional weapons were another casualty of the war since the wind-down had commenced. (1ATF now consisted of only 3RAR and 4RAR.)

On the morning of March 20, Paterson and Hoppe took their half- platoon groups out looking for the enemy, D445, and more bunkers. It was a sweltering day and Paterson bush-bashed, pushing his men until lunchtime. Resuming after the break, they had moved less than 200 metres when they found a track showing signs of ox-cart use. Then, through the silence, came the unmistakable sound of men chopping wood.

'Jeez, they're bloody confident, Skip,' Martin Cross whispered. 'Buggers are rowdier than a wood-chopping competition.'

Paterson ordered the mini-platoon to drop their packs and move into an extended line. Once they had shaken out, he waved them further into the gloom of the thick bush. Was it local woodcutters or the enemy? Paterson's scout, Alan 'Gouldy' Gould, moved to his commander's right while the machine-gun group moved to the left, the high ground.

The VC were waiting less than 50 metres away in a U-shaped bunker system, and began to sight up automatic rifles, RPGs and a 12.7mm heavy machine-gun on the approaching diggers. They released the full arsenal in one deadly fusillade.

Paterson realised moments before he was hit, that his half-platoon had stumbled into a bunker complex of Company size. Worse, the enemy was equipped with heavy weapons and they weren't bugging out as per normal practice, they were staying to fight. It was D445 Vietcong unit, reinforced with regular force members of the 3/33 NIVA Regiment.

Scout Alan Gould saw an M79 grenade launcher go off, heard the distinctive dupe it makes, then felt the blast of an incoming RPG explode nearby. He was thrown to the ground and blood began to spurt from his chest. He could taste and feel warm fluid running down his throat: he heard a curious whistling sound coming from his chest. I've been hit in the lung.

Peterson started crawling over to him, and shouted above the roar of fire, 'You're gonna be okay!'.

Gould's last impression was watching tracers overhead while he lay in the leaves. His section was pouring fire onto the enemy, who were still trying to close in and kill the wounded Australians. The enemy's 12.7 heavy machine-gun was cutting above Gould's head, felling small trees, and he could just see his section commander, Russ Petty, desperately trying to get him.

Paterson and 8 Platoon were pinned down by a blizzard of enemy fire. Dave Paterson was mortally wounded: two other men, the machine-gunner and Gould, had been hit. Things were getting worse - all the soldiers were almost out of ammunition and smoke grenades, which were desperately needed to mark their position. The spare ammo and smoke grenades were in the packs back where they had been dropped. As their leader, Paterson knew he had to do something. Martin Cross was convinced the enemy would now advance from the bunker complex and overrun the Aussies' thin line of defence. Paterson turned, waved his arm and called, 'Back, get back to the packs ... go now, I'm covering,' He propped himself up and fired another burst from his Armalite.

Cross got to his knees and worked his way backwards, crab-style, with the two men closest to him, John Melma and Ross Budden. As they reached a nearby clump of bamboo there was another sustained burst of enemy fire The members of 8 Platoon were fighting for their lives. The wall of fire had become sporadic and the platoon popped its last smoke grenade to assist an ammunition drop. The moment the coloured smoke began to filter upwards, another smoke grenade popped and sent the same colour upwards - inside the enemy perimeter. Martin Cross's heart sank. They've used the same coloured smoke. Cunning bastards, they were waiting for that.

Lt. David Paterson, KIA, March 20, 1971.

As you walk past the APC you have to look: you don't want to, but you have to. Patto, the gentle giant with boots so big they're handmade: Patto the Nasho, liked by all. Patto now lying on the seat of the carrier. He still has a few blades of grass in his hand, grass he must have clutched as he died. Maybe in a minute he'll get up and walk out and ask for a brew. Hell, why would they make such a huge man an Infantry commander? Men that big don 7 belong in the jungle, the jungle's for shorter people - people you don't see so easy.

The dust off arrived to take the dead and wounded. The medic was adamant. 'The rule is, the wounded never travel with the dead. I don't give a toss how you do it, Sarge, but the wounded aren't travelling with their dead skipper.' Later that day a second dust off came in. Paterson was loaded on to the Iroquois with as much gentleness as they could muster. You couldn't help but notice the one huge boot that stuck out from the poncho liner wrapped around the body. There was a rubber band around it to stop the detached sole flapping. He would have walked many clicks with that rubber band, snagging on every vine he stepped over. The Army just didn't have spare boots that size to fly in on a resupply.

8 Platoon, Charlie Company, 3 RAR 1971
Woodside. South Australia
(Missing Pte A J Cox & Pte R Barrie)
Redirections for this page:
The Life of David Paterson
Audio file Contact 20th March, 1971
Contact 20th March 1971
The Gentle Giant David Paterson
My Memory of 2Lt David Paterson by Stacey Kruck

My memory of 2nd Lieutenant David Patterson
8 Platoon Commander, Charlie Company 3RAR
Vietnam 1971

Stacey Kruck- Everyman's

I had served the men of 7RAR for eleven months as a Representative of Everyman's Welfare Service a (Christian Philanthropic Organization), and I was beginning to feel very tired and looking forward to going home, yet feeling guilty leaving an unfinished task supporting those still serving who were laying their lives on the line.

3RAR arrived and took over from 7RAR and I slipped seamlessly into my new
Battalion - 3RAR - having accumulated quite some experience by that time. Each Battalion has its own personality and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in 3RAR and achieved a lot in my final month in Vietnam. I was readily accepted and totally involved but it also brought some confronting and sad experiences whose impact has not diminished over time.

One day I packed my gear and assembled a good selection of drinks, biscuits, sweets and many other goodies not normally available to the men out bush to boost a soldier's morale. I was flown to 3RAR's newly established Fire Support Base named 'Beth', their first in enemy territory.

That afternoon I met David Patterson for the first time who expressed his appreciation for what I was doing for the soldiers out bush. As we sat there on the dusty ground having a cuppa, I asked him — so what's your story? He told me about family, school, Army Cadets, becoming a schoolteacher, and how he came to sign on in the Army etc. It was a down to earth talk but the thing I remember most was his declaration of love for his lovely wife and little girl back home. That was deep and sincere. He was determined to give his best as a leader and expressed the hope of a safe return to carry out his plans with his family. It was a time I regard as a D&M - deep and meaningful. He seemed a man of integrity, strength with humility and confidence in, and concern for his men.

Our talk concluded naturally and standing up he remarked, "well mate, I would love to continue this conversation sometime but I had better go and rally the men as we are going out on ambush tonight." We shook hands and said, "See you later mate" just as the 'chopper' arrived to take me and my supplies back to Nui Dat.

Next morning, Sunday, I drove my Land Rover and Trailer down to Vung Tau, to where the Australian Logistics Base was located. I did this every second Sunday and would return with both Land Rover and trailer loaded with supplies from our Conex. This load of supplies would usually provide two weeks support for the men.

When I arrived in Yung Tau, I would attend chapel, then walk to I st Australian Field Hospital which was close by to visit and seek to encourage the sick and wounded and if possible, and be of service where able. That morning, I had just arrived at the entry of the hospital when the Siren blared loudly warning staff of incoming casualties. I stood back as the medics rushed out to assist the walking wounded, stretchered those seriously wounded and I noticed one soldier lying face down indicating that he was dead.

As the strctcher was being carried past me I recognized Dave! I let out an involuntary gasp in shock! I accompanied his body to the morgue. I just stirred at him and wished I could shake him back to life. I touched his cold body as I prayed over him in a reverent, respectful goodbye. Our last words had been-" see you latter mate." I wag shocked to realize that I had become so arrogant as to expect onc could guarantee another day in a war zone. It brought home the Scripture "You don't know what a day may bring forth " but it does not make it any easier to accept.

This incident impacted me more than any other and fifty years later, I still remember with respect the courageous platoon Commander who even while he lay wounded and dying, ordered his mcn to leave the area in front of the enemy bunkers to safety and to request Air and Artillery support.

I only knew Dave for some thirty minutes or so but his bearing and selfless sacrifice impacted my life in a significant way. I will never forget David Patterson.

Remembered, Revered, Respected
"Hope to see you later mate!"
Stacey Kruck- Everyman's


2Lt David Paterson
Bill Hignett
Date Unknown

Bill Hignett pays tribute to the only Australian teacher killed in the Vietnam War

As we approach Vietnam veterans Day on the 18th August, many Australians are aware of the name of Errol Noak, a former student at Richmond Primary School and the first conscript killed in Vietnam in Vietnam on 25th May 1966.

But virtually unknown is David Paterson the only teacher (and SAIT member) killed in action in Vietnam.

Thirty four years on, I still experience a tightening of my throat and goose bumps when I hear a helicopter overhead. At first throbbing blades and then a thudding wap-wap-wap sound as it moves above me. Memories flood back to my units transport compound and lies alongside the 1st Australian Field Hospital heli-pad in Vietnam where the DUST-OFF choppers regularly landed with Australian causalities.

March 20th, 1971 was one of those days when a dust off chopper landed with Australian casualties from an enemy contact near Xuyen Moc, a small village in Phuoc Tuy province in South Vietnam. We found out later that one of the casualties was Second Lieutenant David Paterson from Adelaide who had been killed in the initial contact. He had been moving along a recently used track with half of his platoon when they were fired upon resulting in him being killed instantly and two other platoon members being wounded. He had only been in Vietnam since February 25.

Only six years earlier, he had started his teaching career with the South Australian Education Department when, on 1 January 1965, he was appointed head teacher of Mount Hill Rural School, a small one man teacher school in the middle of Eyre Peninsula. Prior to that he had been a leaving teacher scholar at Woodville High School and completed a two year teacher training course at Western Teachers College.

While teaching at Mount Hill Rural School in 1965 and 1966, he became quite involved in community activities, assisting with the organisation of the small school's swimming carnivals at Port Neill, playing for the Wharminda Football team and playing basketball on Thursday nights at Cleve.

Even thought he only taught at Mount Hill for two years, he is fondly remembered by his former students. One of his students , Tony Parker, told me, "he was very good teacher who was always challenging me to achieve my best.

After he was called up for National Service, he obtained 2 deferments as he was still studying, often travelling to Cleve with other first year teachers from Wharminda and Butler Tanks to attend the external studies sessions conducted by the principle of Cleve Area School

At the beginning of 1967 he was on national service leave from the Education Department and commenced recruit training with the Australian Army at Puckapunyal where he was selected for training as an officer and spent the second year of his National Service as second Lieutenant with the Pacific Island Regiment in New Guinea.

After returning from New Guinea he visited Mount Hill and told ken and Pat Young, with whom he had boarded while teaching, that he was going to join the Australian Regular Army. When Ken asked him about the war in Vietnam he said, "only scouts did not come back", clearly referring to the forward scouts who suffered many casualties because they often were out front as the eyes and ears of the infantry platoons.

According to his family it was always David's intention after he left the Army to return to study and teaching. He spoke about it on a number of occasions. His daughter Sarah who was only 3 months old when he was killed, is an English teacher at Warners Bay High School in the NSW Public Education System.

From all my conversations with former students and members of Mount Hill and Wharminda communities, David is remembered with great fondness as a teacher who enriched and valued their communities.

It is disappointing that, except in these communities, his contribution as teacher has largely been forgotten. His employment record in DECS do not record him as being killed in Vietnam. The 1971 SAIT Journals do not mention his name and except for the death and funeral notice, The Advertiser only devoted one line on March 23 1971 to his death.

The AEU has already commenced discussions with Minister's Office for country teaching scholarship to be named in his memory.

Service number: 4718855
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Unit: 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
Service: Army
Conflict: Vietnam, 1962-1975
Date of death: 20 March 1971
Place of death: South Vietnam
Cause of death: Killed in Action
Cemetery or memorial details: Centennial Park Cemetery, Path 20, Grave 61B, Derrick gardens, Centennial Park Cemetery, SA
Source: AWM153 Roll of Honour cards, Vietnam

Australian War Memorial

Location on the Roll of Honour

David Paterson's name is located at panel 4 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial (as indicated by the poppy on the plan).

Return to Roll of Honour

The 3 RAR Internet site gratefully acknowledges the assistance of 101 design of Wollongong. www.101design.com.au