My name is Steve Chamarette, I am here today on behalf of over 4000 soldiers who served with John when he was in the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
Firstly, on behalf of all of those soldiers let me express our deepest sympathy to Gylian, Joanne, Stephen, Michael and families on the loss of their husband, father, grandfather but more importantly like us, the loss of “a true friend and good mate”.
John served with 7th Battalion for over six years. During this period he did two tours of Vietnam. In his first tour of SVN from April 1967 to March 1968, John was the Platoon Sgt of 3PI, A Company. During the latter part of that tour he was also acting Platoon Commander of the Platoon and brought it home to Australia. John’s second tour of SVN was from February 1970 to March 1971, when he was Company Sgt Major of C Company.
Preparation for war as a Pl Sgt or Coy Sgt Major in an Infantry Battalion is possibly the most challenging job you can have. You have the responsibility of transferring your knowledge and experience in the practical aspects of fighting and survival on to your soldiers, the junior NCO’s and in all most every case, the young inexperienced 2LTS and LTS with the aim of minimising the casualties which you know are inevitably going to follow.
John with his professional approach, experience, integrity, fairness, bravery and dedication to service excelled in these tasks. His “leadership style was “Do as I do”. The regimental Motto of “Duty First” was more than a motto to John, it was his life style.
Some of John’s exploits are report in the Book – “Conscripts and Regulars”. These will be a perpetual testament to his soldiering skills. However, these reports fail to illustrate the true John Sexton and “the man”, behind the name and the huge contribution he made to the Battalion.
To demonstrate the attributes, personality and high esteem that John was held, here are some of the comments I have gleaned from people who knew him well.
“John was a happy blend of the Australian Larrikin and a top regimental soldier that allowed him to relate with all ranks”.
“John could be a bastard, but you always knew he had your best interest at heart”
“He was pre-emptive with the wayward soldier. What ever they could get up to, had been done before, by him.”
“A natural leader he never led with his rank”.
“You always knew where you stood with John, he was up front, he told you so, and never left you in any doubt, as to where he stood.”
John was also very modest. Few people know, that on hearing of John’s illness the Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery took the time to write him a personal letter.
I do not know the contents of that letter, but I would like to read comments from Emails sent to me.
The first is from Geoff Skardon the Officer-Commanding C Company on John’s 2nd Tour of Vietnam.
“I first served with John in 1962 whilst running the Special Air Service Cadre course at the Infantry Centre Ingleburn. John was a LCPL and I was a 2LT. It was the start of a 43-year old association, filled with fond memories.
It was an era where we worked hard, and played hard. I might add, none worked harder, or played harder than Johnny Sexton. The latter quality naturally led to many a serious discussion about his career prospects. His youthful exuberance definitely needed channelling but his leadership qualities were clearly evident.
On becoming the OC of C Company in 1969 I reviewed John’s record. It was apparent that as a Pl Sgt in his first tour of SVN, that he was involved in many heavy engagements with the enemy.
It was also quite evident, that his once youthful exuberance had matured into dedicated professionalism. And we would need every bit of this professionalism, to do our job well and keep casualties to a minimum.
If I became a casualty, it would be John’s job to take command of the Company. I was always comfortable in the knowledge that John was more than capable of doing the job. More importantly, this view was shared equally amongst the other Officers, NCOs, and soldiers of the Company. This was clearly an accolade of the highest order.
Many soldiers will no doubt remember John Sexton as a hard-bitten, cranky, unforgiving disciplinarian, devoid of a sense of humour. Most soldiers soon recognized that the bark was big but the bite pretty soft.
On one occasion, at dawn, during an operation, six or seven soldiers stood up at the same time. The CSM let forth as only John Sexton could and the chastened soldiers sank back to the ground.
I said, “CSM that was a bit rough”. John replied, “Rough! Rough! I
will tell you what is rough. Rough is having a claymore mine explode through your position at a time when soldiers want to stand up. It happened to me last tour but it will never happen to me or mine again.”
“Fair enough”, I said. I couldn’t say much else, as I was one of the soldiers who had stood up!
That really, was what John Sexton, was all about. He had a wealth of soldiering experience, some of it very nasty, and he was dedicated to ensure that no one, became an unnecessary casualty.
I have no doubt that there are soldiers walking around today that owe their lives to John Sexton’s pursuit of excellence. If he had to be hard and tough to achieve this degree of excellence – so be it. And, I dare-say there would be few complaints today.
John was tough, dedicated, courageous and always had the welfare of the troops uppermost in his mind. He was every inch a soldier. We in C Company have deemed it an honour and privilege to have served with him”.
The second message is from the PATRON, OF THE 7 RAR ASSOCIATION, MAJGEN R. A. GREY, who was the CO of 7RAR 2nd TOUR
John was a soldier of ability and natural gifts, who by dedication and example, earned the respect of all who worked with him. He was a major part of that pervasive, irreplaceable inner strength of 7 RAR and we who are left, are poorer without him.
And from ROSS ELLIS, who served with John on the 1st Tour and PRESIDENT OF THE 7 RAR ASSOCIATION came:
“Today we salute a soldier of 7 RAR who was full of confidence, bravery and fun. We thank God for this example of soldiery at its finest and trust that his legacy will be an example to future generations of soldiers serving not only in 7 RAR and its derivatives, but also in all other Infantry units in the Australian Defence Force.
To Gylian and her family we extend our deepest sympathy and affirm our commitment to keep her close and be there when needed”.
To me these testaments, confirm what those who served with John, already know.
So on behalf of your extend family of 7RAR, John; its time to say farewell, rest in peace and thanks for sharing an incredibly important part of your life with us. You can leave us, knowing you made a valuable contribution to those with whom you served. You will not be forgotten.
They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget