Lest we forget: Pottsville remembers its diggers
MERV Mason was only 20 years old when he got the call in June 1965 to sign-up to fight in the Vietnam War.
But he counts himself lucky, for he knew how to fire a rifle.
"I was in Gosford when I was called up to the army, but I came from a small town called Bulahdelah, just north of Newcastle,” the retired veteran said.
"I was a clerk, but I was fortunate, I was a bush boy, I could use a rifle, it was all familiar to me. But we had kids that came in that had never seen a rifle until the first day they got to Kapooka (Australian army barracks) and they were sent away to war.”
Mr Mason, who spent 352 days and four hours in Vietnam, recalled his time there along with other members of the Pottsville RSL on Friday as the country came together to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan, Australia's bloodiest battle in the war.
"It's very humbling and sad,” Mr Mason said.
"It makes you think about the guys who were there that aren't here now.
"I was in the first planeload of national servicemen to arrive in country in 1966, in Vietnam. We were fortunate, there were 15 of us guys who went over in the same plane and the same 15 guys came back in the plane. But within five years there were five of us that were missing, four of those at their own hands.
"That is what the war did to you, and it is still happening today. The soldiers that are coming today, the authorities are still missing something in the connection to get people back into the lifestyle and routine of not having to all the time be told what to do.
"Young diggers today are struggling but the soldiers of today are professionals, we weren't.”
Mr Mason recalled his story as he joined the official opening of the new war memorabilia display, opened on Friday at the Pottsville Beach Sports Club.
Alongside his uniform - the first he received - are other bits and pieces donated by members of the Pottsville community.
Pottsville RSL vice-president Clive Cramb, who spearheaded the creation of the display, said one of the most remarkable donations had been a saddle from the Light Horse Brigade - numbered 623 - dating back to 1917 and a plume hat.
Other items of interest include shell fragments and artefacts from Gallipoli, as well as more recent memorabilia from local soldiers currently serving in the Middle East.
Mr Cramb said the display, which included more than 60 donated items, including many from his own family, would be refreshed every six months.