Young hearts that flourished whilst apart

By Taylor Toovey Edited by Natasha Hoppner and Jake Watson

Lawrence Howard Hoppner, better known as Hoppy, is a Victorian native who was called on to serve his country in national service in the year of 1966, at the tender age of 21.

Despite his initial concerns about joining the army, as he reminisces on his service time, Hoppy says he “loved it”, and at the time saw himself happily serving his two year stint in the Vietnam War. Based at Nui Dat as a Forward Scout in the infantry as part of the 7RAR platoon, Hoppy still remembers his first day on the frontline when 6 Viet Cong were killed and 17 Australians injured.

Photo of Andrew Carroll taken from 'Behind the lines' by Andrew Carroll

Photo of Hoppy taken from ‘Behind the lines’ by Andrew Carroll

Memories of the harsh wartime conditions and unforgiving environment also remain vivid for Hoppy. “We walked through swamp for five days and were we cheesed off,” Hoppy wrote in a letter to his girlfriend Lorraine. However the muddy jungle did nothing but strengthen Hoppy’s mindset. He says that the greatest life lesson he took from his time serving in Vietnam during the war were “discipline, respect for others, and self-control.” Today, as he lives well into his 70th year, Hoppy insists the war was a “marvellous adventure,” which he enjoyed alongside great mates, enveloped in a sense of comradeship that has stuck with them well after the end of the war. What I admired most about the veteran, so young at heart, was his optimism and gratitude for his life. At 22 years old, Hoppy was the eldest hero in his company and explained that despite the depravities of war, you had to get over the perils and enjoy the one life you have.

The two years Hoppy had expected to serve as his term of duty in the Vietnam War were dramatically cut short during a firefight, wherein Hoppy was shot and badly injured. He remembers little except for being pulled from the frontline by a chopper and taken to an American hospital for treatment, before being repatriated to Australia. Hoppy stays close with the friends he made during his service, but doesn’t see much of them, as they all live in Australia’s southern states whereas Hoppy made the decision to move his family to Queensland. However he fondly describes them as “happy little Vegemites” and assures that those left standing continue to stand tall. Over the course of Hoppy’s time in Vietnam, his now wife, Lorraine, and he exchanged a series of love letters that Hoppy describes as the only complete set of war letters about “boy meets girl.” They tell of Hoppy’s experiences of the war and Lorraine’s deeply-felt love and equally deep worry for Hoppy’s safety.

In one anecdote, Lorraine jokes that after not hearing from Hoppy in awhile, she began to wonder if Hoppy had found a “nice little Viet girl.” Hoppy’s bravery and dedication to Lorraine, as well as Lorraine’s emotional strength during a testing time when they were both so far apart, is illustrated throughout the series of letters exchanged between the two. The culmination of these exchanges making for a lasting love story that is as beautiful today as it has ever been.

To read Hoppy’s love letters from which I have included excerpts in this story, you can purchase Andrew Carroll’s book of international war letters called ‘Behind the Lines’ or see the letters at the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra.