Tunnel Rats and Flame Throwers: The Joe Cazey Vietnam War Digital Story and Oral History

Australia’s decade-long involvement in the Vietnam War remains a significant cultural touchstone for those who lived through it. For some, the anti-war sentiment was the shaping of a generation; for others, it was a tragic final note on a stressful and traumatic service experience.

State Library of Queensland has recently interviewed a number of Vietnam War veterans to capture their oral histories. Through their first-hand experiences, we are able to gain unique perspectives and anecdotes that shape our perception of this turbulent time.   

Joe and his parents on the dock awaiting departure. Joe is twenty years old. Photo courtesy Joe Cazey.  

Joe Cazey enlisted in the Australian Army immediately out of highschool. He was trained as an engineer and embarked for Vietnam on 24 May 1966 from Woolloomoolloo. He describes his arrival in Vung Tao with detail, recalling the beach arrival and the discovery that his unit’s personal effects had been left at the water’s edge during a rapidly rising tide.

… my group’s boxes, steel boxes were sitting on this pallet as the tide came in and immersed them… and I thought Great! That’s a good start, we’re arriving almost dry footed and all our gear, when it all arrived it still had salt water in it!

Joe Cazey

Joe bails water out of  weapons cache. Arriving in the wet season meant that the Vietnamese water table was only centimetres below the surface of the ground. Photo courtesy Joe Cazey.  

Joe spent the initial months of his overseas service in an administrative role, after which he was rotated into an active field troop. He witnessed the Battle of Long Tan being waged from a mere 2-3 kms away, and assisted with running additional ammunition to those involved.

Joe was trained in clearing the underground Vietcong tunnels that have since become emblematic of the Vietnam War. Known as the ‘tunnel rats’, Joe was charged with performing rescues in the tunnels and gathering technical information and data.  recalls the experience of

If there was a tunnel discovered we would go into the tunnels…they were massive, they were extensive; workshops, hospitals, kilometres of tunnels… and of course, the Vietnamese people are smaller in stature and our soldiers were a little bit bigger and they tended to get stuck which was quite dangerous.

Joe Cazey

He describes working regularly with attached US military units, including notably taking part in a month-long rotation into a US attachment that resulted in Joe becoming the platoon commander of a Flame unit. The M67 and M132 Flame Thrower vehicles, also known colloquially as “Zippo” vehicles, were capable of dispensing flame approximately 170 metres towards an enemy target. Deemed eventually to have a questionable effectiveness in modern warfare, the flamethrower was removed from the US military’s arsenal in 1978. Vietnam was the last theatre of war in which flame throwing armoured vehicles were used by the US military.      

To watch Joe's digital story, click here: Vietnam veteran Joe Cazey digital story.

Vietnam veteran Joe Cazey digital story, 2021. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

To watch Joe's full oral history, click here: Vietnam veteran Joe Cazey oral history.

Vietnam veteran Joe Cazey oral history, 2021. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 


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