Song of the Freedom Bird

By 1962, the emphasis of the Cold War in the Western Pacific had shifted dramatically from the Korean Peninsula to Indochina. While Australia relocated a squadron of Sabres to Ubon in Thailand, and put military advisors on the ground in South Vietnam, the US began a covert war in neighbouring Laos. That suited Dutchy Kramer just fine – an ex-RAF soldier of fortune who could divide his time between the dangerous, daily grind of mountaintop airstrips in Laos and his favourite prostitute in steamy Hong Kong.

It had started with such a simple idea – buy the opium crop and secure the support of the mountain tribes to stem the Communist tide flooding south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. Yet thanks to ruthless CIA operatives like Nathaniel Styer, much of that opium was destined to create victims out of the very soldiers sent to preserve the West’s brittle hold on the domino that was South Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was only ever going to escalate, and into the cauldron at its zenith ventured an uncertain young conscript named Luke Samuels, torn between his surfing counter-culture and his duty as his father saw it. Luke’s war was fought partly at the front line and partly in the heart of the war room, but still he required medical evacuation towards the end of his tour of duty. Sadly, his homecoming was liberally laced with his countrymen’s rejection of the Vietnam War, and compounded by the eventual collapse of the South Vietnamese government to the Communists. Engulfed in an emotional roller-coaster ride, and forced into a life of denial as the only means to hide his anger and shame, Luke turned to his Army mates for understanding, and they to him.

For years, only his true love could soothe his pain, and then along came a band called Redgum.

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