Tahmoor’s John Sharman enlisted in the navy in 1965, when he was “just a kid”.
He was a sailor on the first troop carrier that took soldiers to Vietnam and was on the last ship that brought them home.
His involvement in the Vietnam War has left its mark on the 69-year-old and on Anzac Day he will reflect on his service and the sacrifice of his mates.
“I was only 17-and-a-half,” Mr Sharman said. “I was still a kid. You weren’t supposed to enlist until you were 18.”
Mr Sharman joined the Royal Australian Navy when he was 17 because he could not find a job.
“I tried to get a job as an apprentice plumber but I couldn’t so I went into the navy as a general entry sailor,” he said.
Mr Sharman was a sick berth attendant on his first trip aboard the HMAS Sydney troop carrier in 1965 and on his second trip and he was an X-ray attendant on the ship that took the troops home in January 1972.
“On the first trip I talked with soldiers on the way up to Vietnam,” Mr Sharman said.
“For most of us it was our first time going into a war zone. I was frightened and I didn’t know what to expect.
“On the first night in the port I saw things that were really bad. Things that I still dream about now.
“I saw American planes bombing villages on shore. I can’t imagine what soldiers went through.”
Despite the horrors of war Mr Sharman saw, he enjoyed the mateship and camaraderie with the other sailors.
“Being in the navy was a good job,” he said. “I had friends and I enjoyed the work and the routine.”
Mr Sharman trained at several naval bases and worked at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne as an X-ray attendant before being posted back onto the HMAS Sydney in 1972. He was medically discharged later that year.
Mr Sharman worked for the Department of Community Services in the records management section until his retirement. He is married with two children.
Mr Sharman still remembers the stigma Vietnam veterans faced when they came back from war.
“We weren’t recognised as veterans for many years and I didn’t march in any Anzac Day parades until the late 1980s when my father-in-law took me along to a Hurstville march,” he said. “I think he took me for company and because his comrades were getting fewer and fewer.”
Mr Sharman also worked in the HMAS Sydney Association to get recognition for the sailors’ war service.
He is also now a proud member of the Picton Anzac Day Committee.
“The committee is leaving a legacy in the Picton Memorial Park for everyone in Wollondilly to visit and it gives people a place to reflect on all conflicts.”