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John Allen and I served with Section 6, 8 Platoon, C Company 5 RAR first tour 1966/67. We both travelled to Vietnam on HMAS Sydney and returned home together the same way a year later.

JD had only returned home from Vietnam a little over three months when he was tragically killed in a road accident near his home town of Lithgow, NSW. I was notified of the accident by John Searle, a friend who also served in the same section. He also mentioned that a female passenger survived the accident.

Daryl and JDWhen I had my medals framed some years ago the lady who framed them asked me if I had any photos from Vietnam. I gave her three photos and she selected the photo of J D and myself standing together with our suitcases the morning we departed Nui Dat. She wasn't aware of the accident. I often pause and look at the photo and have told many people who see the framed medals of the tragic story behind the photo.

When Gary Townsend sent out an e-mail about the dedication of a plaque at Lithgow on the 11th November 2013 I immediately felt I needed to attend. I contacted John Searle and Dave Riik who live in Sydney and Murray Claydon who lives in Woolongong. John picked me up from Mascot Airport and we drove to Lithgow where we met up with Murray and Dave. The next day we attended the Dedication Ceremony followed by the Remembrance Day Ceremony. Both ceremonies were very well conducted in trying weather conditions. Few people at the ceremony could tell us anything about the accident but we were told the female passenger was a New Zealand girl.

Only nine months or so after attending the Dedication in Lithgow I received a phone call in August 2014 from our Platoon Commander, Roger Wainwright, telling me that JD's girlfriend, Denise Wiffen (now Denise Cash), had made contact with him. Such amazing news after almost 50 years.

Denise did not have a photo of JD, was keen to get in contact with some of his mates and hopefully get a photo. Roger sent a photo immediately of JD with Curley Koblitz, his Section Commander. Fortunately I had not long had my slides, about 80 of them, converted to digital format and was able to e-mail ten photos of JD. Denise couldn't believe her luck.

Denise explained that she was in a coma for a week following the accident and was given a 50% chance of surviving. She had sustained very serious injuries resulting in the loss of her right leg above the knee and almost lost her left leg. There was also the possibility of permanent brain damage. However she survived and trained to become a school teacher.

In Denise's words "I retrained to be a teacher when I was 38 and the boys were 14 and 10. I went to Teacher's College and graduated with my Diploma in teaching and then in 2000, graduated with my Degree (B.ed). I probably didn't make that very clear in previous emails.

I became Assistant Principal of the Junior school and also DRS at the same school. I was encouraged to go for Principal positions and only last year St Mary's Parish in Foxton wanted me to apply for the principal at St. Mary's school but at this stage of my life it's not what I want to do. When I look at the work load principals have today I am pleased with the decision I made.

On the day of the accident John and I were on our way to his place to have dinner with his parents and Grandma".

Denise asked me to also include this piece in the story:

"It was 5.00 pm at River Lett hill, on the Great Western Highway when the accident happened through no fault of John. A truck lost its brakes coming down the hill, hitting John's car head-on. I don't remember anything about the accident or some of the time that went before. To think that John went through his experience in Vietnam and survived and died in this way, is tragic. I feel so fortunate that the contact with some of you has filled in some gaps for me. I thank you all for your support and I thank Daryl for his huge commitment in securing John's medals for me and his wonderful friendship. I shall cherish them always".

Denise teaches and lives in New Zealand. She married and has two sons and four grandchildren, two boys and two girls.

After exchanging e-mails for a couple of weeks and realising just how serious JD and Denise's relationship had been, I suggested to Roger and Denise that perhaps JD's medals may be unclaimed and that we may be able to get them. A long shot as Denise and JD at the time of the accident were not even engaged let alone married. I knew JD was an only child and that his parents were elderly and thought there was a good chance at least three medals could be unclaimed and possibly all five.

I made a phone call to the Defence Force enquiring whether the medals were unclaimed. They tried to give me an answer over the phone but without JD's Regimental Number it was too difficult for them. They were very helpful but decided it would be best for me to make a formal application. They e-mailed an application form for me to complete and submit.

I found this a little difficult as I was applying for the medals on behalf of Denise, not for myself. However I submitted the application with supporting documentation from Denise early in September. I thought this a little odd as it would be a waste of time if the medals had been claimed.

A little later Denise sent copies of newspaper articles of the accident from Lithgow and New Zealand papers. I promptly sent these off as further support to the application.

Approximately five months after submitting the application I received a phone call on the 27th January 2015 from the Defence Force telling me that all five medals were still available and that they were going to give them to me. I was ecstatic and couldn't believe we were going to get the medals. However a Statutory Declaration attached to an e-mail was being sent to me the same day and they needed this signed and returned before the process could start.

When I received the phone call and told about the Statutory Declaration we were travelling to Geelong from Daylesford where we had been camping for a week and wouldn't be home for a further week. I immediately forwarded the e-mail to my son in Geelong who printed out the Statutory Declaration for me. I signed it the next day and his receptionist scanned it and sent it back to the Defence Force. This saved about a week which was important as I had booked a flight to New Zealand on the 19th March and desperately wanted to take the medals with me to give to Denise.

Daryl and DeniseI had decided in early January to travel to New Zealand to meet Denise and catch up with a friend who lives only one hours drive from Denise. My friend and I spent most of 1964 in New Zealand on a working holiday. He married a New Zealand girl who grew up not far from where Denise grew up. He turned seventy in February but missed out on the ballot. He intended coming to Portland to celebrate our 70th birthdays together but last December he had to cancel the trip. My friend and Denise have met each other and they are now making arrangements for my visit.

I travelled to New Zealand on the 19th March and was picked up by my friend from on arrival. I had not seen him for five years and was great to catch up.

The next day, Friday, my friend, his wife and I drove the one hour north to Denise's home. After meeting Denise, her husband Michael and older sister Annette I presented her with JD's medals and some items from the recent 50th Anniversary Reunion. We all adjourned to the courtyard for a drink and a chat. We talked about the accident and Denise's rehabilitation amongst other things. Then inside for a wonderful meal prepared by Denise. A great evening and terrific to eventually catch up.

The next day Denise drove down to my friend's house and picked me up for lunch. The two of us had a couple of hours together and talked further about the accident and JD. Sunday my friend and I attended a family BBQ where we met Denise's sons, their wives and grand-children.

A wonderful four days that seemed like a week as so much had been compressed in to such a short time.

For Denise the events of the past six months have given her some closure and I know she is absolutely thrilled about everything that has occurred since making contact with JD's mates. I know also it has given me, and no doubt other mates of JD's, some closure as we now know much more about "the girl who was a passenger in the car accident that took JD's life".

Daryl McCombe

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