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Russell Copeman was born in Narellan NSW on 24 January 1947. He enlisted in the Army on 23 September 1964 and was allocated to the Royal Australian Infantry. He underwent SAS selection in 1965 and was posted to SASR on 14 December 1965. Russell came from 6th Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment with the rank of Private. Russell was wounded on 19 January 1967 while participating in a four-man reconnaissance patrol in South Vietnam. He died of his wounds on 10 April 1967 after being evacuated to Australia. Russell’s next-of-kin at the time of his death was his father.
Vietnam War Service
23 Sep 1964: Enlisted Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, 215989
15 Jun 1966: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Trooper, 215989, 3rd Special Air Service Squadron
15 Jun 1966: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, 215989
10 Apr 1967: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, 215989, 3rd Special Air Service Squadron

This Eulogy provided by Russell's sister Mrs Ann Honess on the occasion of the Wollongong Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Vigil on the 3rd August 2023 in the company of John Matten.

Russell James Copeman was born at Lyndon Private Hospital, Narellan, NSW on 24 January 1947. He was the first child of James (Jim) and Pearl Copeman.

Russell’s first 6 years were spent in Picton, NSW, while his father, James, completed his post war training as a Carpenter. In 1953 the family, now of 5 with sister Ann and brother Darrell moved to Towradgi on the South Coast of NSW. James had qualified for a War Service home and took up a position with the Housing Commission of NSW.

Russell’s schooling commenced at Towradgi Primary School until Grade 6. At a very young age Russ had a dream of owning his own farm, so to help achieve his goal he was sent to Hurlstone Agricultural College as a boarder for the first three years of high school. Unfortunately, boarding school was not “his cup of tea”, so he returned to Towradgi and the family home to attend Corrimal High School with the aim of completing to Year 5. Once again things did not work out and he left school early in Year 5 to take up an Apprenticeship as a Greenskeeper at Figtree Bowling Club. A job he enjoyed but he was just filling in time until he could join the Army.

During his school years Russ was a competitive sportsman and was involved in athletics, rugby and swimming. He was always outdoors and spent many hours surfing during the summer months. Unfortunately, these activities also meant he was prone to injuries. Sliding down sandhills on a sheet of tin saw a badly gashed leg; chasing kids around the house ended up with him running through a glass door, resulting in 15 stitches in his forearm; playing rugby for Hurlstone Ag College sent him to hospital with a broken leg for a month; and finally a close call in a car accident which transformed a Falcon sedan into the size of a Cortina (luckily this one only left him with a few scratches on his forehead).

Russell wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Cecil Edward Copeman, who was an ANZAC at Gallipoli and also fought in France in WWI and his father, James, who fought with the 2/3rd Battalion in WWII, gaining a Military Cross and Military Medal for bravery in the process. Russ joined the CMF as soon as he was old enough and serviced with 3RNSW Regiment in Wollongong, alongside his father, until he was able to join the regular army.

Full time service began for Russell in 1964 where he did his basic training at 1RTB Kapooka, NSW then to C Company, 6RAR once basic training was completed. He was transferred to B Company, 6RAR in June 1965 as he was too young to be sent to Vietnam with C Company.

Army life was obviously what Russell wanted and in a letter to his Dad in June 1965, he wrote “No worries about Vietnam. I’m too young & am being transferred to B Coy 6RAR on Monday. If they won’t have me for overseas, I’ll have a bit of adventure. Have filled in my application for SAS today. Here’s hoping.” His application was accepted and SAS, Swanbourne WA was his next posting. Following intense training 3SAS was deployed to Vietnam in June 1966.

In his latter letters from Vietnam Russell seemed torn between life in the Army and following his childhood dream of owning a farm. It seemed that his experiences in Vietnam were playing on his mind, and he was tossing up weather to take up Officer Training or apply for a discharge once he returned from Vietnam. Officer Training finally won out but instead of taking up the course in 1966 he decided to remain with his mates & Squadron until their deployment was completed and take on Officer Training in the next intake. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as he was wounded in January 1967, which ended his military career & ultimately his life.

Our family owe so much to John “Juvi” Matten for his bravery following the incident where Russell was wounded. If it were not for John we would never have seen Russ again, all be it for a short few months.

During a four-man patrol Russell was “tail end Charlie” and John was the radio operator & Medic. A sniper shot and wounded Russell and once John realised Russ had been hit, he rushed back to his aid and carried him to safety, attended his wounds as best he could and sent morse code messages to get a helicopter to extract the patrol. The patrol was winched to the safety of the helicopter while still under enemy fire and flown back to base at Vung Tau. Russell was rushed to the operating theatre where he spent many hours having his wounds attended to. The marvellous medical team of Doctors & Nurses at Vung Tau worked tirelessly to save his life and eventually Russell was strong enough to be medevaced back to Australia. His last few months were spent at Ingleburn Army Hospital, where his family could visit him daily until his passing on 10th April, 1967.

Posted by Tony Cox Organiser/coordinator Vietnam Veterans Vigil Wollongong 3rd August 2023.

April 10, 1967

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