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Humour and heartbreak in Vietnam

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on April 23, 2020

It was the wise words of his father that encouraged Quin Rodda to apply for officer training in the army.
He had started out as a regular force cadet aged 17 and had become a Lance Corporal when this opportunity presented itself.
“My brother was already an officer but I didn’t like his style of leadership, he was too pompous,” says Quin, who was born in Christchurch in 1936 and went to Christchurch Boys’ High School.
“My Dad said ‘surely there’s other officers that you admire, so model yourself on them instead.’
So Quin applied, and Brigadier Leonard Thornton, the officer leading the selection board, clearly saw the same potential, despite the rest of the board’s view to the opposite.
Quin was determined to prove himself to both the Brigadier and his father.
The date of 8 May 1969 marked the beginning of a chapter that would shape Quin’s life irrevocably – the date of his posting to Vietnam.
As Captain, Quin was appointed second in command of Victor 4 Company, one of two NZ Infantry Companies to become part of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment operating as an ANZAC Rifle Battalion under the formal title 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion.
At this point, Army HQ had opened up the recruitment to anyone in the other corps who wanted active service and Quin says the result was V4 Coy being a somewhat ‘rag tag bunch’.
“There were all kinds of people, from dental assistants, education assistants, drivers, gunners, chaps who drove tanks. I think that was something that helped bond and keep us together,” he says.
Their new reality was brought into sharp focus on landing in Nui Dat. The sight of so much American military equipment was ‘mindblowing’ and the adrenaline started pumping when they were issued with live ammunition on arrival.
Quin’s role was to be the eyes and ears and to keep everything ticking along both up the line to his superiors and down the line to the lower ranks.
“I had to work with the Company Commander, Major Larry Lynch, so if something happened to him I would be aware of what was happening and take over. Luckily that didn’t happen.
“I also had to make sure the soldiers had everything they needed.”
Quin says this could vary widely. It could mean ensuring they had enough beers in stock for wind down time in the camp bar, the ‘Never Inn’.
“There was a popular song at that time called ‘The Mighty Quin’ (by Manfred Mann) and usually every time I walked in they would start up the song, probably to butter me up so I’d let them have another half an hour of drinking!” he laughs.
There were also times after the dozen or so operations carried out when he would need to act as a father figure to the men especially in the aftermath of seeing a mate injured or killed.
“I had to identify our first casualty, Jack Williams, who had only come in as a replacement about a week before.
“That was the first time I realised that was part of my duties as 2IC. It also shook the lads so we had to be careful around them in case they took retribution in the next operation.
“You had to tell them to be nice, and say it’s not necessarily them who’s killed Jack. So you had to get people to stay calm and realise that this is what’s going to happen.”
Of the 37 New Zealanders killed in Vietnam, seven of them were from V4 and several others suffered life-changing injuries.
More shocking perhaps was the reaction from the New Zealand population on arriving home exactly a year later.
There were no senior army officials or politicians to greet them, just sergeants handing out their pay and travel vouchers and telling them to change out of their uniforms.
That treatment really stung, says Quin, who credits his friend and fellow V4 Coy member Geoff Dixon for his hard work lobbying the government for an official welcome home and apology – something that was finally delivered by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2008.
“A lot of them just needed to hear those words,” he says.
V4 Coy still holds reunions every two years with last year being the 50th anniversary. Quin also took part in a documentary shown on Maori TV on Anzac Day and they have even published a book which includes moving firsthand accounts of the men’s experiences.
“I think like any soldier who’s been involved in war, you don’t want it. But I personally still feel that our contribution helped form south Vietnam as it is now,” he says.
Quin later went on to work as an accountant after leaving the army and moved into William Sanders Retirement Village with his wife Robin in November 2019.

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman Healthcare was founded in Christchurch in 1984 and owns and operates 36 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia. Ryman villages are home to 11,600 residents, and the company employs more than 6,000 staff.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Corporate Affairs Manager David King on 03 366 4069 or 021 499 602 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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