Familiar face during war sparks lifelong friendship
IT WAS a familiar face in the crowd of a war-torn country that caught the attention of Rod Gear as he walked through Nui Dat.
The Vietnam Veteran said it was sometime in the 1970s, while stationed with the rest of his battalion, when he spotted his best mate Darryl Wendt grinning at him from the top of a passing APC tracked vehicle.
"Bumping into someone from home, it was a good feeling," he said.
Mr Gear and Mr Wendt have a truly special friendship - one that outlasted the Vietnam War and stood the test of time.
The men, both from the Bundaberg region, said they knew nothing of one another until they met at a recruitment session for the Australian Army.
To this day, some 48 years later, they have remained the firmest of friends.
"I was 18 and Darryl was 19 years old at the time," Mr Gear said.
"We first met at the recruit centre in Brisbane and then we hopped on a train to Sydney and a bus to Kapooka.
"They even put us in the same room together during our 12 weeks of training."
Mr Gear said after bonding at Kapooka, their time together was cut short when soldier duty called.
"I went off to the infantry corps to become a real solider and Darryl went off to the armoured corps," he said.
"I used to carry a rifle and everything I owned on my back and he carried everything he owned in the back of his APC.
"We never knew where the other was but kept writing to each other."
Mr Gear said he randomly crossed paths with Mr Wendt from time to time during their service and when they returned home from the war, the pair made the effort to keep in touch.
"I went to his wedding and became godfather to his son," he said.
Mr Gear and Mr Wendt, now in their late 60s, still catch up every week in Bundaberg at a special exercise program for war veterans.
"This program is put on by the Department of Veterans Affairs and it is to try to keep us out of hospitals," he said.
"By keeping us exercising and mentally and physically fit, it is helping us live better lives. We have a personal trainer, Michael Olsen Exercise Physiology.
"It is also a social thing, we all get together and have a coffee afterwards."
Mr Wendt served six years with the Australian Army and Mr Gear three.
The duo said their time in Vietnam was an adventure, filled with the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
"At times it was scary, sleeping out at night with snakes and creepy crawlies all over you and wondering if someone was going to sneak up on you," Mr Gear said.
"It ruined our health."
Mr Wendt said he had constant problems with his legs.
Mr Gear said he was now suffering Parkinson's disease due to the spraying of DDT, once designed as a type of insecticide, at his camp in Nui Dat in the 70s.
"But all in all I think if you asked me to do it again I probably would," he said.
The pair said their unique bond had outlasted the horrors of the war and, after so many years, still enjoyed catching up for a coffee and an exercise session.
"We have never had an argument," Mr Gear said.
"I used to look after him at recruitment training and it went from there.
"Oh that's rubbish," Mr Wendt laughed.
"We just clicked, I think because we were both country boys. We stuck together."