Lamensdorf portrays the Australian soldiers she cared for in a refreshingly positive way. In a lengthy article on her life in Vietnam in last weekend’s Herald Sun (9/4/06), she recounts that on her first day in Saigon she visited the US headquarters and that,
In the public relations office she saw photographs of unknown soldiers scattered across a desk. One photo caught her eye.
The image was of an Australian Digger. Rivulets of sweat ran down his dirty face and his eyes told of physical and emotional exhaustion.
Lamensdorf asked if she could keep the photograph. It hung above her bed for her year in Vietnam.
“To me, he summed up the spirit of the Digger: good-looking, rugged, covered in sweat and dirt and though totally shattered, resilient,” she says. “I didn’t know who he was, but he made a huge impression.
“I met many men like him in Vietnam; selfless and well-trained, they never lost their humour and they worried more about their mates than about themselves.”
The man who captivated Lamensdorf was later identified as Barry Harford, a Tunnel Rat who would lead the way into the eerie darkness of the Viet Cong tunnels. Men like Harford never knew what awaited them in the darkness, but they did their job anyway.
On being an attractive young female living among 5000 troops she says,
It was like walking a tightrope. The men had been without women for a long time and there was a lot of sexual tension in the air, but they always treated the Red Cross women with respect and dignity.
After a year, Lamensdorf returned to Adelaide but,
I felt very out of step. I became intolerant of hypocrisy, insincerity and anything plastic. But at the same time Vietnam made me realise the goodness of mankind.
It sounds sugary, but I’d seen the finest that men could be to each other in Vietnam.
This is a very different view of the Vietnam War than that conjured up by films like Apocalypse Now. What’s even more striking, though, is that Lamensdorf so openly appreciates the traditional masculinity of the Australian soldiers and bears not a trace of disloyalty toward them.