“Dear soldier”: Warrant Officer Class 2 Rodney Kenane


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Sergeant Rodney Kenane heard a truck rumble to a stop, and scrambled to his feet. He gave a shout as the driver emerged, a thick stack of envelopes in his hand; the mail had arrived. His fellow troops raced to the truck in excitement, and Rod ran over the rain-sodden ground to join them.

A soldier with his shirt off, sitting on a chair in Vietnam reading the newspaperIn 1966, just weeks after arriving in Vietnam, Rod and his platoon received some surprising mail. Expecting to read news from their loved ones, the men peeled open the envelopes to letters written by year 5 students from Gowrie Park Primary School near Latrobe in Tasmania.

At that time Gowrie Park was home to the families of men working on the nearby hydro-electric scheme. Many had moved to Australia from places such as Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Russia, and Italy in the wake of the Second World War, and their children had become students at the local school.

As Anzac Day approached, the year 5 teacher, Marie McCulloch, encouraged her class to turn their attention to the war in Vietnam. The students were already aware of the conflict; many had watched a televised concert for allied forces stationed over there, and had been struck by the sight of hundreds of troops in uniform.

Determined to make a contribution, the class decided to write to Australian soldiers serving there to let them know they had not been forgotten. Marie sought approval from the Department of Defence, and soon some 50 letters – each addressed to "Dear soldier" and decorated with paintings, cartoons, and pressed gum leaves – were on their way.

Rod and his platoon were touched by the students’ thoughtfulness, and almost immediately penned some replies:

Dear Joana,

First, thank you for your letter, also thank all your friends for the

letters they wrote, which my mates will answer soon … We have been

in Vietnam for nearly two months now, and at the moment we are

working from a base area on the coast at Vung Tau … You must have

a great teacher for helping all you children write to us. We read in the

paper, how you all saw the Bob Hope show, and you all asked your

teacher could you write … So goodnight my friend, I hope I have

another letter from you soon.

Lots of luck, Rod Kenane

Over the next few months the students and the soldiers continued to exchange letters, sharing tales about life in Gowrie Park and Vietnam. The class also sent a recording on which they had taped themselves reciting poems, performing songs, and reading personal messages. Rod’s platoon soon responded in kind, posting a reel-to-reel tape to the school.

The students and soldiers lost touch in the years after the war, but Rod fondly remembered the correspondence they had once shared, and in 2004, nearly 40 years on, he finally met Marie McCulloch for the first time.