Federal Politics

The grief that shadows a Digger's family after that knock on the door

A VIETNAM veteran has told how his experiences in war four decades ago have helped him cope with losing his son on a modern-day battlefield.

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The Fallen - Part Four

In the fourth part of our series, The Fallen tells the story of Jason Brown, killed in Afghanistan, through the words of his family and friends.

Today, Graham and Ann Brown mark two years since the army came to their home in Sydney's north to tell them their son Jason was dead.

"Must have been about 7.30 in the morning," Mr Brown says, recalling the knock at the door.

Graham Brown with his wife Ann Brown holding their son Special Air Service Trooper Jason Brown's army beret and medals.
Graham Brown with his wife Ann Brown holding their son Special Air Service Trooper Jason Brown's army beret and medals. Photo: Kate Geraghty

"My brain sort of clicked in and said, 'Oh yeah, it's the army. He's probably won an award.' "

As far from the truth as it was, the thought was understandable.


For 10 years leading up to that Saturday morning, Graham Brown had followed his son's succession of achievements - training at Singleton, north of Sydney, deployment with the 1st Battalion (''he was really stoked because that was my old battalion''), three tours of East Timor, selection for the commandos and then the army's elite, the Special Air Service regiment or SAS.

"He was completely different to me," Mr Brown says, remembering his own circumstances in the late '60s.

SAS soldier Jason Brown.
SAS soldier Jason Brown. 

"I never wished to join the army, as he did. I was conscripted, and as soon as my two years was up, I was out. Once he got in, that was it. He was happy."

Graham and Ann Brown are a study in contrasts as they discuss the shock of that morning two years ago, and the grief afterwards.

"The amazing thing at the time," Mr Brown says, "the guy that broke the news - I can't even remember who he was now - but my wife said, 'Oh you poor chap. You've got such a terrible job to do, you know, to break this news. Here, can I make you a cup of tea or coffee or something?' "

Ann Brown doesn't remember it, but does recall an other-worldliness as she phoned family and friends.

"I'm saying on the phone, 'Jason was killed in Afghanistan.' Now they're shocked. I'm saying it and I'm not believing what I'm saying. It didn't seem real."

Hours earlier, 29-year-old Jason had been on a patrol in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

From a thicket of dense vegetation just metres from the Australians came a burst of machinegun fire.

"Jason was the one who was hit and he was the only one that was hit."

Mr Brown is calm and factual as he talks about the seconds in which he lost his son.

"I think he bled to death fairly quickly, but the others engaged the enemy … All the Taliban that were involved in that ambush, they all died."

So does he have any feelings towards those men and their families?

"Not really, no. That's war. Back in Vietnam War days guys would get killed out on patrol, out on operation [and] you would never see the coffin or anything. You'd have a memorial service later on after the operation was over … which might be a month later … The operation wasn't called off. You'd just keep going.

"It was a devastating thing … I don't think I changed at all … I've probably found it a little bit easier than Ann has or my daughter because I am an ex-soldier."

For months, grief consumed Ann Brown.

"I never expected the physical pain: the physical pain in my neck, my back, everywhere."

Moments in her struggle over the two years stand out, like the ramp ceremony when her son's body arrived back from Afghanistan.

"All I kept thinking in my mind was, 'Son, I never thought you'd come home like this.'

"I remember going to his unit beforehand, and the smell, I just wanted his smell; something with his smell."

She has found ways to cope with her grief and pain.

Some of the conversations she might have had with Jason, she has anyway.

When one of the trees in her garden flowered, she showed him.

"I said, 'Oh Jase, see my flowers. Aren't they good?'

"I talk to him all the time. I ask him, 'Help, I'm struggling with missing you', and that's every day."

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