Rodney O'Regan OAM VA rubs his Buddha-belly and says, "It's like a last tour for us, I'm not fading away, but some of these blokes are!"
It's one of many humourous quips Rodney uses to colour and add levity to a serious conversation about the Vietnam War and the men who served as Tunnel Rats in 1 Field Squadron.
It's almost 50 years since Rodney served as a field engineer in 1970-71, and it was another funeral, a trip from Hillville to the Gold Coast to farewell Tunnel Rat Sapper Ziggy Gniot, that inspired him to organise a Tunnel Rats reunion in Coffs Harbour to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day on August 18.
"The youngest one of us is 70 and we've had four funerals this year," Rodney said. Less than half of the 50 men who made up 1 Field Squadron remain alive and 18 travelled from all over Australia to attend the reunion as part of the Coffs Harbour RSL Sub-branch Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony at 5pm.
Rodney is 71 but the years, and more than a few beers, have not dimmed his memories of Vietnam, the war, its impact on his family, and his experiences as a veteran on returning home.
"We were kids, we were 20-year-olds," Rodney says. He points to a name on the troop ops board that reads, 'O'Reagon' and laughs.
"They actually spelled my name O'Reagon! I could have got blown up and even Mum wouldn't have known that I got blown up!"
Being blown up was a daily risk for Tunnel Rats, with Rodney revealing that "... one in every three got killed or wounded."
"We were heavily involved in the removal of mines, bombs, booby traps, tunnel and hide search, and we went out with the armoured personnel carriers, tanks and infantry.
"We were normally in teams of two, so you could be there for 12 months and only know four people, or six people."
Rodney recalls the devastating impact of Operation Overlord on 1 Field Squadron in June 1971.
We lost 12 guys in one hit ... It was a huge operation to get rid of a North Vietnamese Regiment up in the northern part of our province, and in the next door province, Long Khanh province.Rodney O'Regan OAM VA
"We lost 12 guys in one hit ... It was a huge operation to get rid of a North Vietnamese Regiment up in the northern part of our province, and in the next door province, Long Khanh province.
"We took a reaction force up there but two helicopters got shot down, we lost helicopter pilots too ... and our guys were the engineers who had to go through the bunker system clearing the mines, bombs and booby traps."
Rodney says the veterans "never talk about the bad times" when they get together - it's about enjoying the camaraderie - and he shares that at the reunion there were men who hadn't seen each other for 48 years.
"They all have grey hair and are balding, but within about five minutes the voice comes back and you recognise each other!
"Then they all go back to being 20-year-olds again, and all the stories come out, it was really good, we only talk about the good times."
Numerous factors contribute to the choice of veterans to "never talk about the bad times" - public response to Vietnam veterans on their return home from war, government support for veterans, mental health, drug and alcohol issues. The casualties of war continued on Australian soil with more than 500 Vietnam veterans committing suicide after returning home.
"We had a terrible time coming back, I had a terrible time adjusting, I had a terrible time. You would never tell anybody.
"One government sent us there, and another brought us back in disgrace on a political movement, it was all political.
Whether they say we should have been there, or shouldn't have been there, doesn't matter. We were there, forget about the reason, we were there, now for God's sake look after us!Rodney O'Regan OAM VC
"Whether they say we should have been there, or shouldn't have been there, doesn't matter. We were there, forget about the reason, we were there, now for God's sake look after us!
"The government would like to see you go away, win the war, jump on a big boat, and then the boat sinks on the way home ... then you haven't got to worry about pensions or look after us.
"We've all got disabilities, and a lot of the disabilities you can't see. I had a huge drinking problem and had to overcome that, and I lost a marriage through it and three kids, but I'm over that, it's just a matter of time and time heals."
However, the passage of time has not dimmed his memory of the struggle to return to normal life, and coping with the trauma of public protests.
Rodney says he was out of National Service on a Friday and back at his job in the Mounted Police on the Sunday.
"I'd been away for two years, and the fellas I came back to hadn't changed, and yet my whole life had just been living in a tight group of one or two work mates, in a tight section.
"You couldn't have an idiot with you, it had to be someone you could trust and be able to say, 'Look go and fiddle around with that mine or bomb' ... knowing that he was going to do it.
"You couldn't have anybody flippant with you. You were flippant when you came back and had a few drinks of course, but out in the field you were switched on."
Rodney recalls the challenge of being tasked to go to a protest in his job in the Mounted Police.
"I had to go down to the Wentworth Hotel and there was a protest and the people were singing a chant, 'One side's right, one side's wrong, victory to the Viet Cong!', and there were hundreds of people coming up the road chanting this."
Before heading to the protest Rodney says, "We were told to take our numbers off, our Vietnam medals and ribbons, and we did."
"If you had a ribbon they'd pick on you, but with our numbers, they would take our numbers off and poke you with the pin, and that happened several times.
"I thought I was fighting for the country, but you know, you come back and you really weren't, you were just fighting for yourself."
Rodney says he has noticed a shift in sentiment towards Vietnam veterans in the last five to 10 years.
"So many people will now say, 'thank you for your service'. I can get on a bus in Sydney or around here, have my badges on, and people will say 'thank you for your service'."