WHITE SHIELD – Vietnam veteran Austin Gillette remembers a Christmas he spent on R&R in Australia in December 1968.
R&R is a military term for rest and recuperation or rest and relaxation.
Gillette, of White Shield, served with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Amtrac Platoon in Vietnam.
An enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, he related his Christmas in Australia in this recent account:
Gillette and Sgt. Gabby Gubola, both with Amtrac Platoon, went on R&R from Vietnam to Australia for Christmas in 1968.
When they checked into the King’s Cross Inn in Sydney, they were asked if they would like to have dinner on Christmas Day with a family. They accepted the offer.
“We were invited for Christmas Day dinner by an Australian family as were others on R&R,” Gillette said. He said the family was comprised of the parents, a young son and daughter.
An Army veteran named Bob from New Jersey was along with them. He was on the same plane with them and also staying at the same hotel.
When they met the family, Gillette said they introduced themselves and told where they were from.
“Of course, once they found out I was Native American/Indian they asked the usual question: “Do you still live in tepees?” Gillette said.
So with a stoic poker face, he said he told them: “Yes. But mine had running water. They asked how that was possible.”
He said he explained, with a little extra added: “Our’s were real large – 30 feet across and we had it set up to straddle a small stream. They were quite impressed with that.”
“So their grandchildren and great-grandchildren probably tell of the time they had a real Native American/Indian from North Dakota sharing a Christmas Day meal. Food was great,” he said.
Gillette said the beer served in the bar was room temperature and they had to ask for a glass of ice.
“Once back in Vietnam I tracked down my Uncle Lord Deegan at Liberty Bridge,” Gillette said. Deegan, also of White Shield, was in the Seabees working on Liberty Bridge north of Da Nang, Vietnam.
“We brought in the New Year at Red Beach (outside of Da Nang),” he added.
“Great memories. Life is Good. Semper Fi,” Gillette said.
Gillette served in the Marines from 1966-1969. He was in Vietnam for about a year.
Amtrac Platoon existed in 1967-69, then was reassigned and sent to other units in the Marine Corps. They were first attached to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and later assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines.
The unit may have been one of the most decorated noninfantry units in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, Amtrac Platoon members hauled supplies or just about anything. They also transported wounded.
Gillette was the White Shield representative to the Three Affiliated Tribe’s business council for 20 years. He also was tribal chairman for four years. He retired in 2018 as a fiduciary trust officer with the U.S. Department of Interior.