THE FESTIVE period half a century ago was a time of joyful reunion for one Ilkley family as they welcomed their son home from the war in Vietnam.

But their emotions must have been bitter sweet as 23-year-old Alastair Livingston was due to return to the conflict in the new year.

Alastair, who had been awarded two Purple Hearts and a Silver Cross for bravery, had been living in Canada when he decided to join the US Marines in February 1965 - spurred on by a wish to see combat. After signing up he was trained as a parachutist and a navy frogman, he was also taught Vietnamese and went on to work in reconnaissance.

Speaking after returning home for Christmas in 1966 the former Ilkley Grammar School boy told the Gazette of the battle in which he won his Silver Cross.

"In October my reconnaissance patrol of about 15 men was flown out to operate south of Chulai and on a night of torrential rain we set in on a defensive position. The following morning we pulled out to carry on with our mission of trying to locate the position of a Division of Vietcong which was suspected to have moved in to the area.

"We had just moved out when we were ambushed by the Vietcong which must have moved in close to us during the stormy night. Our point man, leading the patrol 15 yards ahead starting firing and went down with a bullet in his chest. Within seconds more men were hit by small arms fire and hand grenades and we suffered heavy casualties of between 80 and 90 per cent."

Wounded by shrapnel in his right arm, he was able to crawl out and pull dead and wounded back to the perimeter.

"We radioed back for air support and it was not long, though it seemed a lifetime at the time, that two helicopters and jets arrived on the scene. They began to strafe the Vietcong while one helicopter at a time began to take on board the wounded, dead and equipment."

Sergeant Livingston, described the conflict as "a very nasty dirty one because you never know who the enemy really is."

He added: "With the start of the Monsoons we are cold and wet to the skin for weeks on end. I get on well with the American Marines and they have got used to an Englishman being with them. "

"Next Saturday I am playing for the Ilkley Rugby Club's 'B' team, and I expect I shall come out of this match worse than the Vietnam War," he told the Gazette.

His prediction seems to have been accurate enough - not only did he survive the war but he went on to build an impressive career with roles including peace-keeping and conflict prevention.

Now looking back more than 50 years later he says: "Why the US Marines ? Because, at the time, the Canadian Army, of which I was a part, was not providing the opportunities that I sought to prove myself as a soldier, whereas the US military was just building up forces in South Vietnam. No altruistic ideas as to 'defending Western democracy against the communist hordes', or preventing 'the domino theory', just common-or-garden desire for excitement. No young male who goes off to war ever thinks of themselves as anything other than indestructible, and I'm sure I thought the same (as probably does ever young jihadist who travels to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS or similar groups, regardless of ideology)."

"The first two years of my service in Vietnam were with the Marine equivalent of Special Forces, while, after receiving a battlefield commission, and having a couple of postings as an Infantry Officer, my latter tour was as an Adviser with the Vietnamese Marines during the major North Vietnamese offensive of 1972. Subsequently, until retirement from the US Marines in 1988, I held infantry or Special Forces assignments."

Since then he has gone on to work in a variety of roles including peacekeeping, conflict prevention, human rights and reconstruction with organisations including the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the UK Government and various NGOs.

His work has taken him to war-torn areas including Kosovo, Croatia, Baghdad, Sinai, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Among other things he has helped protect the rights of minorities, overseen a unique central Asian mine-action co-operation project, and advised on elections in Kosovo,

His highly successful career in the Marines did suffer an unusual setback when he posed naked in Playgirl in the 1970's

Speaking to the Washington Post in 1980 the Marine Corps Major and Vietnam war hero described how he had come to appear in the magazine with his teammates on the San Diego State rugby team, while he was assigned to a Marine Corps academic program. The team had agreed to the unusual photoshoot to raise money for a new kit, and, as he told the Washington Post, "Streaking was in at that time."

It perhaps wasn't the best career move and he was soon got a call to report to his commanding officer.

"I was told that a determination was made at Marine Corps headquarters that my academic program should be terminated at that time and I was to return to Camp Pendleton. There were two grounds. One was conduct unbecoming an officer and the other was failure to conform to Marine Corps clothing and grooming standards. My hair was longer than allowed."

He also received a letter of reprimand. But his career suffered no long lasting effects from the high jinx - despite being initially passed over for promotion he went on to become Major. He was sure he would have been treated more harshly had he not served in Vietnam and been awarded a Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Silver Star.

"I feel that under normal conditions, a letter of reprimand would effectively terminate the promotion prospects of an officer," he said.

Now 73, he lives in Zagreb with his wife Mirta, and children Clea,18, and James, 17. He is Senior Adviser at the Office of the Prime Minister, in Kosovo. He also has a home in Carleton in Craven and visits Ilkley to see old friends when he is in the UK.

He doesn't view his long and distinguished career in terms of highs and lows.

"Just do the very best that you can do within your remit or mandate to improve, enhance or mitigate the situation within your span of management," he said.

"But, I'm saddened that the British involvement in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in which I proudly played a very small part in 2010-11, has come to naught. All the loss of life, of British and NATO soldiers, all the efforts of so many, the life-changing injuries suffered by those grievously injured....all for nothing. That indeed is a 'low'; although a 'high' while we were accomplishing so much in the development of local government."

Asked if he had any regrets about signing up for Vietnam he says: "Did I ever regret my service, there, in my almost three years of service, or at any other time in my career, military or, not at all. I made my decisions and then moved on with my regret having made a decision that then couldn't be changed in hindsight, would be counter-productive."