Fifty years on from the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, South Australian veteran Eric Ciracovitch reflects on his experiences at the battlefront.
Eric Ciracovitch grew up in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide, where he completed his education at Norwood High School. At 20 years old, he was called up for National Service, leaving behind a budding job in gemmology to serve in Vietnam.
After basic training at Puckapunyal Camp in Victoria, Eric was trained as a driver and posted to a transport unit at Enoggera in Queensland, where he completed further training before being deployed to Vietnam in 1968.
As well as strengthening his skills, Eric has fond memories from his posting in Queensland.
“When posted at Enoggera, we had all gone out to a hotel where this lady wanted to dance with me. Her name was Kaye, and that lady is now my wife,” said Mr Ciracovitch.
Before joining the Army and deploying to Vietnam, Eric had trained as a gemmologist. Going from handling gems at a retail store to training in Enoggera and then to deployment in Vietnam was quite a shift for Eric and his comrades.
“Being in a warzone was very full on and a few times I did feel like we were in danger, but creating close bonds with fellow officers made the time enjoyable,” he said. “We were very lucky at our base in Vung Tau – we had wooden huts with some furniture and personal space, and cooked meals every night.”
During his 11-months of service in Vietnam, part of Eric’s role included serving in the Battle of Coral-Balmoral. “Coral” was the name given to a Fire Support Base (FSB) that was attacked by enemy troops five times over a period of 10 days in May 1968. Sadly, 19 Australians and two American troops lost their lives in the battle, with more than 40 Australians left wounded.
“We were awarded the Unit Citation for Gallantry for our service there,” Eric said proudly. “We received a little gold frame with a green ribbon and gold star.”
It’s an honour, he rightly reflects on with pride. The Unit Citation for Gallantry is awarded to a Unit for extraordinary gallantry in action.
At the conclusion of his service, Eric returned home to the western suburbs of Adelaide, working in jewellery valuations and assessments at Sheppard’s Jewellers at West Lakes. Eventually, Eric enlisted the assistance of a pensions officer when he was no longer able to continue his work due to service-related injuries.
But that hasn’t stopped him.
Today, the South Australian veteran loves spending time with family, including his two grandkids. He and Kaye have also kept a special relationship with Vietnam, having visited several times since the war, with another trip planned for next year.
“The smell of the place, the friendly people and the honking of the horns all feel so familiar. We just love the place.”
Over the past 40 years, Eric has actively given back to the community through his service as President (twice), Treasurer and Charter Member of the West Lakes Rotary Club as well as providing Justice of the Peace services the community through the Semaphore Library.
Eric is also still heavily involved with the South Australian veteran community, having held several leadership positions with the Vietnam Veterans’ Federation of Australia (VVFA) and the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (VVAA). He is currently an active member of the Henley & Grange RSL sub-branch and has earned accreditation as a pensions officer to assist other veterans when they need it.
Eric’s story and his contribution to the veteran community upon return is humbling, culminating in 2002 when he was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) medal for Service to Veterans and to the Community.
“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), VVFA, VVAA and RSL play a really important role in the community, and I am very grateful for my involvement with them,” Eric added.
In 2023, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, in which close to 60,000 Australians served. Veterans SA serves to honour and support every person that selflessly fought for our freedom, and their families.
Read more stories about the military experiences of South Australian veterans.
To read more about the Battle of Coral and Balmoral, visit the Australian War Memorial.