Missing in action no more
A Kiwi Vietnam vet is on longer in terrible danger when he goes walkabout
Ian Bradford left Puhoc Tuy and Bien Hoa in Vietnam in 1968, but the horrors he witnessed there will never release him from the combat zone.
Ian suffers from a condition called chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Through his dreadful memories the war still rages within him, tormenting his sleep, torturing his sanity, twisting his grip on reality.
When his mind can take no more, it convinces Private Bradford, infantry engineer, Whisky Company, that he is back in Vietnam, stalking – and being stalked by the Viet Cong.
When the bad days come, Ian ﬂees from his home in the Christchurch suburb of Aranui and goes bush.
He disappeared for three months in 1981 and, since 1983, police say they have committed staff to 93 working days searching for him.
Even after he’s found, it is sometimes days before Ian, 43, can recognise his partner Pam Drake, and up to two weeks before he returns to normal.
It was while Ian was missing for a month that Pam tried to take her own life. “I couldn’t take any more,” she says. I didn’t know where Ian was, what condition he was in or whether I’d see him again. I felt frustrated, angry and hurt. “There seemed no point in living.”
Now a tracking device given to the couple a year ago has radically changed life for both Pam and Ian.
These days when Ian goes on his wanderings, Pam can track him by means of a transmitter-receiver devised by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The DSIR offered to make an electronic beacon to her specifications for about $2,500, and the sum was paid by a kind American businessman.
Pam describes the electronic device as a real godsend.
“I was on the verge of a breakdown before we got it” she says. “I could not leave Ian alone. At night, I had to lie with a hand on his chest in case he got up and left.
“He still has lapses just sitting out the back garden. However, having the beacon seems to have taken some of anxiety from both of us.”
The beacon emits a signal which can’t be heard by the human ear but can be detected by a receiver.
Ian has limited recall of his rovings.
“I can remember some things at times. I don’t know I’m in Christchurch, but things are familiar to me.”
Ian is relieved that the beacon may prove to be a life-saver, but his relief is tempered by the knowledge that his condition may never be cured.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he says sadly.
While Ian Bradford will remain a casualty of war, perhaps to the day he dies, he can rest a little easier knowing that the tracking equipment will help to prevent serious misadventure.
“Before, I was scared the cold would get me before I’d be found,” he says.
Story: Brian Cowley
Photo caption – Pam Drake and Ian Bradford… both their lives have taken a radical change.
Pictures: John McCombe