Photography: Jay Town
*Note: Pete asked for his face to be hidden in all photos.
Peter Richardson’s only memories of his service come to him in dreams.
He spends his nights running through the dense jungles of Vietnam, yelling out to fellow troops, before he wakes, back in his bed, next to his wife Carla.
Often, Pete wakes from a fitful sleep, after kicking his legs and exclaiming frequently. He will ask Carla, “How were things last night? Any problems?”
Carla responds, “You were fighting in the jungle again.”
For years, Pete’s service has lived only in his dreams and in the occasional flashback. There's no written record of the many years he fought for his country.
This is because Pete belongs to a group, making up less than one per cent of Veterans, that decided not to include their names on the Vietnam Nominal Roll.
This decision led to years of investigation, led by Melton RSL Sub-Branch President Steve Cook, to uncover Pete's service history and see him recognised for his service.
It began during the pandemic, when Carla approached Steve to sign Pete up as a member of the RSL.
“The biggest problem we had was that we had no records for Pete,” Steve said.
"Pete is a solitary guy and only displays a couple of medals and he’s a very aloof fella. That’s by his nature."
From there, it became about much more than just signing Pete up as a member.Steve sought out to recognise this humble man for his valour.
With assistance from the Commando Association, Steve uncovered that Pete had served as Infantry in the 7RAR between 1970 and 1971 and in the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) across the 1970s and into the 1980s.
When Pete returned to Australia, he chose not to have his name published in the Nominal Roll.
“There are people that served in Vietnam that don’t appear on the Nominal Roll, and that comes from when the roll was being formed, service members were asked whether or not they wanted their names on it,” Steve said.
“Peter opted not to.”
“No doubt there would have been a reason, but he never spoke about it,” Carla said.
"Pete doesn’t do things for accolades. He’s done his job and his service."
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs gives veterans the opportunity to remove their name from the roll.
“While uncommon, veterans can choose to opt out of the Nominal Roll, requesting their names be suppressed after their service,” a Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson said.
“There is no requirement for veterans to provide a reason for opting out of the Nominal Roll, but many cite personal reasons for doing so. Approximately 150 individuals have requested their names be suppressed from the Vietnam Nominal Roll.”
After uncovering Pete's service history, the next step was to have replicas of his medals made.
Replicas were made of the Australian Active Service Medal 45 – 75 with Vietnam Clasp, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, Return from Active Service badge, the Vietnam Service Medal with 1960 Date Clasp, the Australian Defence Medal, and the Infantry Combat Badge.
Presenting Pete with those medals after almost three years of research was a moment Steve said he will never forget.
"It was a sense of achievement that we unlocked the puzzle, that we solved the incident."
“I actually got quite emotional over it.”
Carla remains as proud as ever of her husband, who has overcome so many obstacles since returning from his service, from lasting injuries to PTSD.
She now gets to share her beloved Melton RSL Sub-Branch, which she has been a member of for 21 years, with her husband.
“It was a surprise and very humbling… I’m proud,” she said.
"For the RSL to present him with his full medals and the badges, I was just as shocked as Pete was when Steve came down and presented them to him."
A police officer of 27 years, Steve is no stranger to investigative work.
It's a far cry from the incidents Steve usually works, but Pete’s case has been one of the most rewarding.
“Some people don’t boast about their service, some people keep it in,” he said.
"There is stolen valour out there, don’t get me wrong. As I tell my young constables, it’s not what you think, it’s what you can prove. And I think we proved it."