REMEMBERING THE FALLEN: Vietnam veteran Tom McCarthy with the single Gallipoli rose laid at the Toogoom war memorial on Anzac Day.
REMEMBERING THE FALLEN: Vietnam veteran Tom McCarthy with the single Gallipoli rose laid at the Toogoom war memorial on Anzac Day. Blake Antrobus

'It could have been me': Veteran remembers deceased war mate

"IT COULD have been me.”

That's one of Tom McCarthy's reflections on the Vietnam War after seeing his friend Barry James shot in the head during a conflict at Nui Dat in 1969.

The Vietnam veteran paid his respects to Private Barry and other veterans at yesterday's Anzac Day dawn service in Toogoom with a single Gallipoli rose, grown specially for the occasion.

A packed crowd lined the memorial park outside the town's Community Centre to honour the lives of soldiers past and present under the Fraser Coast's first light.

Mr McCarthy, who served in Vietnam from 1969-1970, held back tears when he spoke about the importance of remembering the sacrifice of soldiers and events like Anzac Day.

Then a 21-year-old private, he said he was positioned about 10 feet from where Private Barry was shot during a six-man ambush.

"We still don't know to this day if someone had moved, if Barry or his number two had moved,” Mr McCarthy said.

"But obviously they got spotted and that's how he got killed.

"I'd wrapped a groundsheet around Barry's head, because he was shot through the head.”

After their rescue helicopter was grounded, Mr McCarthy had to sit and wait for another to lift them and the first helicopter out.

"You're a bit numb (after that), but I suppose it's something you had to expect,” he said.

"He was a great guy... it could have been me.

"He took the gun over from me, I was carrying it during training... he took it and I went back to being a rifleman.”

Mr McCarthy said it was vitally important the sacrifices of Australians during armed conflicts was remembered by the public.

"Anyone who serves in any of the armed forces, they sign a piece of paper saying 'There you go, there's my cheque to my life',” he said.

"You've got to be prepared to do that.”



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