GREG Fitzgerald, a soldier of three wars and a battlers’ friend in decades of peacetime, died in Wodonga on Sunday, aged 86.
Old comrades from World War II, the Malay Emergency and the Vietnam War will attend his funeral at Sacred Heart Church in Wodonga tomorrow.
Army records show he lied about his age when he enlisted in Melbourne in July, 1942, five weeks after his 16th birthday.
After he trained in northern Australia, pretending to be 18, his 2/4th Australian Commando Squadron went on to fight in New Guinea and Borneo.
The soldiers suffered heavy losses from Japanese dive and torpedo bombers on landing and those who escaped faced jungle warfare and disease.
Albury Legacy’s Bob Mahaffey said yesterday that he believed Mr Fitzgerald spent his 21st birthday behind enemy lines.
His war ended with the liberation of Tarakan but Mr Fitzgerald remained in the army post-war.
He became a regular soldier in the Royal Australian Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, including a period serving at 4 Base Workshop in Bandiana.
Mr Fitzgerald returned to South-East Asia in the 1950s and served during the Malay Emergency.
By 1967 he was in his 40s and had transferred to the catering corps but witnessed one of the most savage parts of the Vietnam War — the Tet Offensive by communist forces.
He served a year in Vietnam from May 1967 and was a temporary sergeant in charge of young national servicemen when the Saigon hotel they were based in came under fire.
Nine years later, he finally retired in 1977, after 35 years as a soldier.
Mr Fitzgerald and wife Pat settled in Wodonga and raised two daughters, one of whom, Carmel, is deceased. The other, Anne Marie, will fly home from Canada for the funeral.
Mr Fitzgerald was a member of Albury Legacy for 37 years, and was often in charge of catering for Legacy functions such as summer camps and holiday outings.
In Wodonga he became known for his welfare work for the St Vincent de Paul, adopting a compassionate but no-nonsense approach in meeting the needs of battlers.
He organised blanket appeals and Christmas appeals to ensure no applicant missed out.
Mr Fitzgerald leaves his wife and one daughter, several grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
The funeral service starts at 1pm.