Article supplied By Greg Tommasi
Terence Mathew Tommasi was part of the first national
service intake and served with 5RAR during its first
tour as a forward scout. Upon his return to Australia,
Vietnam remained with him; flashbacks, depression, not
being able to sleep without alcohol or pills or both ...
he never married. Post 1993 Terry was dealt another
cruel blow; a stroke that left him partially paralysed
and confined to a wheel chair. Terry lived out the rest
of his life in a nursing home. Sadly Terry passed away
in March 2005. At the funeral it was standing room only.
Along with his family, his 5RAR mates paid their last
respects. In August 1993 Terry was one of three
soldiers featured in an article titled 'Dear Mum and
Dad' in the Melbourne Age newspaper.
April of the same year, (1966) Terry Tommasi boarded
HMAS Sydney. He was in the first group of Australian
conscripts to go to Vietnam and apart from his size,
(1.61 metres) he was fairly typical. He turned 21 there.
To begin with, he was excited, even gung-ho; he was
certainly naive. But Terry lost his innocence there.
Like the thousands of apparently lucky ones who came
home unharmed. Terry was deeply hurt.
beginning, his letters home were full of detail and,
mostly, reassuring. On board ship he was positively
happy: "Ship life is nothing but relaxation ... there
are bodies everywhere soaking up the sun and cigarettes
cost ten cents a packet."
two weeks in the war zone were spent in building up the
defence of the Vung Tau Peninsula between swims in the
surf and trips into town.
Tau ... is completely unbelievable, St Kilda and
Kings Cross are monasteries compared to this place
Inevitably though, the war began to intervene. "I spent
my (21st) birthday doing field punishment for losing my
I.D. card." he told a friend on 3 June. "I filled up
sandbags all day. In the night, I packed my gear,
cleaned my rifle and smoked numerous cigarettes and had
a few drinks ― not too many. We had received the news
that we were moving out the next day and everyone was as
nervous as hell."
He reserved the action mainly for his brothers and
friends, but he stopped giving details even to them
when it became too real. "Our own mob dropped
mortars within 25 yards of us and, boy, did I eat
dirt" he wrote early in the tour. "It took me half
an hour to dig myself out. Luckily nobody was hurt
... on the second day out, another Cong sniper took
a few pot shots at us. I was forward scout and
bullets were flying all around me. Our machinegun
opened up and tracer was spewing all over the place
about three foot over my head. I couldn't stop
shaking for hours after."
writing during a 24-hour rest. "It's magic. First shower
I've had in nearly two weeks ― clean greens, mail, the
lot." The previous 12 days had been murder. "We were
sopping wet all the time ― got, at the most, five hours
sleep per day ― our clothes were covered in mud and were
rotten even while we were wearing them. We marched all
over the place chasing Charlie's mob and as far as we
can tell we've made him bug out of the area. Our score
so far is 11 confirmed kills and 10 wounded for the loss
of one man killed on our side."
Terry was chosen to do a language course and, by July,
he had moved to the southern resort town of Vung Tau. He
wrote home on the 22 June: "The course has come just in
time, too ― this place is starting to drive me nuts."
While he was away, a close mate was killed then Long Tan
happened. He did not write home about either.
Terry returned to his company in September, the
operations were relentless. By 1967, he was counting
down the days before his return home. On 17 February, he
mentioned the death of his company commander and two
other officers but he was vague, adding the postscript:
"No worries I'll be home before you know it. Only 72
days to go now and I'm on my way." What he did not say
was that he saw, from 70 metres away, three men die in a
booby trap mine explosion. A week later, he saw seven
mates killed in an armoured personnel carrier.
On the 11
April, he wrote to his brother Greg: "Tell them not to
worry too much about what they read in the newspapers
... we become non-operational on 26 April, so there
isn't very much they can give us to do in between time.
Still I'm keeping my fingers crossed ... P.S. Get
Wayne's board waxed up for me, will you?"
Terry was conscripted, he was not unhappy about it. "I
wanted to go." he remembers. "I thought it was an
adventure. The job I was doing was boring." But a week
after he came home, his brother was called up and.... "I
couldn't break his legs in time."
brother Greg also served in Vietnam 1970-71. Terry would
say: "Greg's letters home were a bit like the ones I
wrote. I used to read them and think: "What a load of
shit. What is really happening?" You had to try to read
between the lines."
a forward scout and because of his small size, was often
sent first into enemy tunnel systems. Twenty seven years
later, he still haunts the tunnels at night, never
sleeping without alcohol or pills or both. He admits he
has been in "real strife with alcohol" over the years
and the battle rages on. He lives with his sister's
family in an outer suburb of Melbourne, works hard in a
factory job and has never married.
Terry later suffered a severe stroke and was placed
in a nursing home. He died on the 23rd March 2005
aged 59 years.
Terry Tommasi's funeral was held in the Tobin
Brothers Funeral Chapel on Thursday 25th March 2005.
He served as a forward scout and was held in high
regard not only by the members of his platoon but
also his company. The chapel was standing room only
with over 60 veterans attending which was a
testament to his popularity within the veteran
community. A Guard of Honour was formed as the
hearse drew away and he was given three rousing
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS |