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Tracker Dog by Peter Haran- A true Australian Vietnam War Story
I actually knew one of the soldiers killed in this story
This book means a lot to me because, like a lot of the other books I have read, I actually knew one of the subjects in the book. He was Garry Polglase, who was killed in the Vietnam War in 1968, and was the tracker dog handler of the dog Julian. I will explain later in my review detail.
This is an extraordinary book, highlighting the work of the tracker dogs in the Australian Army during the Vietnam war, from the perspective of one of the handlers ... Peter Haran who is now a journalist in Adelaide. Peter was a tracker dog handler in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. Because Peter is a professional writer this book is well researched and well written. Is is gripping and compelling and sometimes harrowing.
It covers a period in history that we will never forget, the first war shown on TV- the Vietnam War. This was a harrowing time for a lot of families both in Australia and America. Peter explains how he joined the army and ended up at Puckapunyal army training camp in Victoria, for his basic training. He then went on to Canungra Jungle training centre in Queensland, as did everyone who was going to fight in Vietnam. There are some great “big boys” stories told about the times they spent training for war.
After they had finished basic training, they went off to Ingleburn in NSW to train with their tracker dogs. It is explained in humourous, Aussie, larrikin detail how this is done, and again there are many great yarns. All of the dogs are black labradors and are named after Roman Emperors. The dogs are only trained to track down the scent of the opposition soldiers and not to sniff out explosives unusually although this was considered.
Finally the soldiers, along with their dogs head off to fight in the Vietnam war. They go on patrol many times, and the action they see in the War is explained in detail. Unfortunately one of their number is killed, Garry Polglase.
To make things even worse when the tracker dog handlers return to Australia after their tours the Government refused to let the dogs come home with their handlers on the grounds that it would be too expensive for quarantine costs.
Garry’s mother Pat, whom I knew, applied to have the dog brought home soon after her son’s death. she wanted that dog, for it was a direct link to her dead son, his best friend too. After questions were raised in Parliament, and the family had conducted a public campaign through the Herald/Sun newspapers, that raised enough money to pay the quarantine costs of all the tracker dogs, the Army confirmed its policy on the fate of the dogs and refused the request. The Premier of Victoria, Hamer at the time, even received a personal letter from Pat, but it fell on death ears. Luckily for the dogs, they were all found homes in Vietnam at various government officials and diplomat’s homes
My grandparents were close friends with Pat and Horry Polglase. Their son was Garry. He was a tracker dog handler from Melbourne in Victoria and unfortunately he was killed while on active duty in the Vietnam War in 1968. Before Gary left for Vietnam he came to see my parents and I. Less than six months later he was dead.
I have photos of myself as a little kid sitting on Garry’s knee. He is in his army uniform. My father, Laurie Dunen unfortunately was killed in a car accident a month later he was 28. Garry was killed the month after that, he was only 19.
There has been a lot of lies and secrecy surrounding the actual way he died. One of his ex mates who was there when he died posted on the internet that he lied in a report about Garry’s death. I was told he threw his service pistol on a card table after an operation and that it accidentally discharged and shot him in the head. I do not believe this. I have also heard they were playing Russian roulette but the gun involved was an automatic?
I have met other Vietnam Vets at the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Long Tan at Royal Perth Yacht Club in 2006, that were also there when Garry died and knew him. I am a singer/guitarist and I was theer to play "Only 19" the Redgum song about Vietnam with the band the Knight Club Quartet who toured Vietnam in the 60's. I dedicated the song to Garry Polglase. When I asked the old soldiers what really to Garry, they all glanced at each other with concern. One of them piped up and said to the rest, “Will I tell him the truth”? The answer, amid a lot of murmerings, and embarrassment, and worried glances, was no. I believe that he was accidentally shot in combat by one of his own men. There are men around who know more than they are telling. I mean no disrespect but the truth should be told.
It was very sad looking back on it now as I remember going to the huge Catholic Church in Flinders Street Melbourne with aunty Pat, Garry Polglase’s mother. I was only seven years old. She would light a candle for her dead son Garry and hold my hand and weep. At the time I didn’t know why.
This book was written by Peter Haran who is now a journalist in Adelaide. After I read the book I wrote to him and bugger me if he didn’t write a friendly letter back thanking me for my interest. I told him I knew Garry Polglase but he would not elaborate on Garry’s death
This book is a terrific read, like most of the books I read, but not all, I couldn’t put it down. The Vietnam war was a sad time in my life and the world.
Canines in Combat -- Vietnam 1962-1972
Cassius, Tiber, Justin, Marcus, Janus, Julian, Caesar, Milo, Trajan, Juno, Marcian