Phil Norris, Vietnam veteran and Long Tan survivor

Phil Norris, a young postman from Granville in western Sydney, was called up in the first draft of the National Service Scheme for Vietnam.

He had a whirlwind romance and marriage to his 17-year-old sweetheart, Maryanne Matthews, before sailing north to be stationed with 1 Field Regiment at Nui Dat.

During skirmishes with the Vietcong in the early hours of August 17 1966, Norris was struck in the head by shrapnel and quickly evacuated.

The skirmishes escalated during the ensuing two days into what is now known as the battle of Long Tan, the most intense Australian exchange of the war, and one of the bravest battles fought by any Australians in history. Outnumbered by about 25-1, they fought and held their base, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy but suffering only 18 fatalities themselves.

Norris was not only the first casualty - he became symbolic of the treatment many Aussie soldiers received upon their return.

What happened next became one of the great untold stories of the Vietnam War; a story of love and forgiveness, family, and of mates who would not leave their fellow soldier behind.

"Phil's journey is a microcosm or a metaphor of the Vietnam veteran experience," says writer Cate McGregor, herself a former Australian infantry officer who served for nearly four decades. "It's about loss, it's about anonymity, it's about being ignored, about being lost to the kind of mythology of the Australian ANZAC legend.

"They (Vietnam veterans) are a tight bunch, because society turned their back on them for so long, they're bonded in a very very tight way, these men."

McGregor says Vietnam veterans understand mateship more than most Australians.

"They're a great bunch of Australians. The integrity, the loyalty to one another that these men still feel, it's been very emotional for me.

"I hope readers understand the calibre of these men and what they did for their country. I hope that it gives an optimistic read that there's a great groundswell of goodness in human nature too. That even in the darkest and nastiest circumstances - and war is that - that nobility of human beings can shine through that. That eternal values like love and compassion and friendship and mateship are real and matter a lot."

Source: The Australian