The year is 1970. The day is the 26th of July. The place is Viet-Nam. My role in Viet-Nam was as a scout and tracker.
We had been tracking the Viet Cong for two days. About mid afternoon on the first day while leading the patrol I saw in the distance a small blue mountain which we seemed to be heading toward. I remember saying to our Platoon Commander I wouldn't be surprised if we end up at the base of that mountain. He kind of fobbed me off and then a short time later we spotted a helicopter being fired upon by AK-47s. These are a Russian designed short combat rifle especially made for jungle warfare. They have a distinct sound or crackle and were more sturdy and solid than the American made M16 Armalite assault weapon 'linchon toys' that were used by our troops although I favored and used the trusty English designed SLR rifle.
At dusk on the second day we harbored up at the base of that mountain. That night I was offered a hammock that had belonged to a Viet Cong who had been killed two days earlier which lead to our tracking his buddies. I tied the hammock between two trees and climbed in with the thought of having a good nights sleep. I must have been in that hammock for no more than ten minutes and I began to feel uneasy. The hairs all over my body stood on end and I felt numb and cold with the heebee jeebees. I immediately jumped out of the hammock and gave it to someone else. I also remember hearing sounds like pots or pans clanging together to which I approached the platoon commander and said, Sir I think they are up the side of this hill. He asked me how I knew. I told him I thought I heard the faint sounds of pots and pans or something metallic from up there. Anyway because no one else had heard them I was dismissed as hearing things.
The next morning we quietly got up, had a bit of a bite and a hot drink, packed up and started to move slowly and in single file up the hill. Because I and our section had done the bulk of the tracking over the last two days we followed up the rear. We at the rear had hardly left the base of that hill when the lead patrol had made contact with the enemy. Because of the steepness and the huge boulders on the side of that hill our lead section could not return fire. The enemy stood back off the boulders and lobbed grenades over the top at us. We could do nothing but huddle in under the boulders and hoped like hell we didn't get hit. The gun ships and planes were called in and they blasted the side of that mountain above us for a good thirty minutes or more while we nervously smoked cigarettes below. After the pounding that hillside took I was approached by the platoon commander and asked if I would lead a patrol into what was now considered to be an enemy camp. By then everything had gone quiet. I agreed with some apprehension and after another smoke I proceeded to lead the patrol up and into the camp.
On the way up we had to step over an unexploded grenade. We also had to stay on the track as off to either side of it were minefields. I and my cover scout had just entered into the camp when a mine exploded behind us and two of our buddies were injured. They were choppered out and we were called back out of the camp with the instructions to jump from rock to rock and not to step on the ground. Well I came to a place where a low branch crossed my path and in order to get to the other rock I would have to stoop quite low down and jump across. I adjudged that that would be difficult and that there wouldn't be a mine down there. So I stepped down and the rest is history.
I felt myself flying through the air and landing with my head inches from the trunk of a large tree. My head was throbbing and my ears were ringing. In a few seconds my past flew by me. I could see the waves crashing on the rocks at home as clearly as the brightest day. I immediately addressed the Almighty and prayed that should I die then first let me go home to see my parents. I faintly heard my section commander screaming at me, Huddeee! Huddeee! Are you alright? I immediately started cursing in the most foul language imaginable. Then I smelt the stench of burning flesh and my legs seem to curl up my back. My mind was in a turmoil but I was thankful to be still alive.
I was strapped into a stretcher, arms bound tightly to my sides and winched up vertically into a helicopter through the canopy of trees. On being winched up I looked down at my buddies, trying to smile and give some indication that I was okay when I felt a small branch of a tree lodge between my head and the stretcher. I could feel the weight starting to bare down on my neck and those bloody Americans just kept winching me up. For a minute there I thought my neck would break but luck was on my side because the branch broke. During the flight to the Army Hospital in Vung Tau the American medical team in the chopper kept talking to me to keep me awake for if I fell asleep I may never have woken up. So I decided to play a little game with them and closed my eyes and pretended to pass out which caused some commotion in the chopper. They were slapping my cheeks and pressing down on my chest when I opened my eyes and started laughing. Needless to say they weren't that impressed.
On arrival at the army hospital I was rushed into intensive care and had to wait my turn to the operation theatre due to the number of wounded that had been flown in at that time. Five of us from our operation had been flown in and others from other operations had been or were being flown in. While waiting I remembered that the All Blacks and Springboks were playing the second test in South Africa and asked the attendant who was with me if she could get me the score. She came back with the score of 9-6 to the All Blacks and then I think I lost consciousness. I don't know how long I was out for, a day, two days, I'm not sure but when I groggily came too my right leg had been removed from above the knee.
I remained in intensive care for about two weeks during which time my left leg was removed from below the knee. I remember the doctor standing at the end of the bed and asking me a question. I could barely hear him asking me, Can you feel this? To which I replied, No! He asked the same question again, I gave the same answer. This happened a third time, same question, same answer and then he disappeared. A little while later he returned and spoke to me. He explained to me that my remaining leg was a mess and that I could hold on to it however it would cause constant difficulties and there was no guarantee that it would be satisfactory. The fact that I could not feel a thing indicated to them that the leg was dead. My emotions at the time were pretty taut and gangrene was foremost in my mind and something I was not willing to tangle with, so with a huge lump in my throat I told the doctor to cut it off.
I had many visits from top brass and to be frank I would have preferred seeing some of my buddies. I asked if some of them could come to see me and they obliged. It was so good, it lifted my spirits and for that I was eternally grateful.
When I was fit enough to travel they flew me to a hospital in Malaya for a week. From there I was transferred to Australia, for two weeks, then home to New Zealand. The plane touched down in Auckland at night during the hours of darkness. I was transferred on to an ambulance and was taxied away. Still at the airport we stopped, the rear doors of the ambulance were opened up and the silhouette of mum and dad appeared. Then the flood gates opened. I cried, they cried, and we just cried until we had no more tears. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty for this moment for my wish had been granted. I was taken to Middlemore Hospital and they followed. They sat beside my bed one on each side holding my hands and stroking my arms, tears rolling down our faces. Nothing was being said, just a quiet reassuring nod now and then. It was a very emotional time. They finally left after about an hour and I went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of sparrows. A couple had alighted on the window outside, tittering and tattering along the window sill. The sun was shining and the light was pouring into the room. I was filled with emotion. Tears rolled down my cheeks, I was so happy to be home in New Zealand. Mum and dad returned, they stayed for a couple of hours and left. They had to go back to Opotiki.
The next day I was visited by a very special person who was to become my wife on the fifth of December 1970 which attracted some attention from the media. She also can take credit for getting me out into the public because she would sneak me out of the hospital gates in a wheelchair and down into Otahuhu, into town and back. I remember us getting caught one time and being reprimanded about the hospital being responsible for my safety and whatever but it didn't stop us. Those excursions slowly helped me get used to the strange looks and stares that I was to become accustomed to over time.
Extract from 'Life is not easy' - unpublished memoir by Ruka Hudson