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Vietnam Veterans Day

On this day Vietnam veterans, their fellow veterans, families, and friends would normally gather to pause and reflect on the bravery, teamwork, and endurance of all Australians who fought for their country from 1962 to 1975.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic will make it difficult for us to come together to remember the service and sacrifice of our mates, so we’ll find other ways of connecting over the phone or by social media; the reality of the world we’re living in.  

We will honour the 521 Australians who lost their lives, and the 3000 who were wounded, ill or injured, and those who still carry the physical and emotional scars of their service over 50 years later.  

Vietnam Veterans’ Day was originally known as Long Tan Day and was chosen to commemorate the men of D Company 6RAR who fought in the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966.  

On that day 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. Eighteen Australians were killed and 24 were wounded.  

The bravery displayed by D Company was recognised with a United States Presidential Unit Citation; only the third time that an Australian Army unit has received such a significant honour. 

I was 15 years old when I joined the Royal Australian Navy and joined HMAS Sydney for my first sea posting before travelling to Vietnam in 1966 onboard the Vung Tau Ferry as it became known.  I would go from being a 17-year-old boy from Far North Queensland to being a man who was involved in one of the most polarizing conflicts of our nation’s history.  

As the war progressed, Australia stepped out from under the cloak of the British Empire and we fought alongside our new brothers-in-arms, the United States of America, and with our mates from New Zealand.  

At home, the mood about the war was shifting and was losing political support. The level of support Australians showed our fathers and grandfathers who fought in the two World Wars and Korea started to wane for the troops who were facing a new type of war closer to home. We returned to demonstrations and conflict, felt alienated by our communities and the RSL, and it wasn’t until 1987 that our service was publicly acknowledged with a ‘welcome home march’. 

I know that the unfolding situation in Afghanistan is impacting on veterans of this conflict, their families, and Vietnam veterans alike as we all process our emotions about our involvement and remember the mates we lost. It has served to highlight that the connection between all veterans is stronger than ever, regardless of where we served, and we do understand each other.

This time of reflection serves as an important reminder that there are now many generations that have fought to protect our country and the League must ensure that it looks after them. It pains me to think that any veteran of a conflict since Vietnam has not found the service and support, they need from the RSL. 

I encourage my fellow veterans to also use this day to reflect on what it means to wear the RSL badge; a symbol of constant readiness to render service to Crown, country, and our comrades. Today, and every day, we must support our mates, regardless of what war, conflict, or peace-keeping mission they were involved in. 

Sadly, many of our mates are no longer with us and I take this opportunity to say we will remember them. For those of us who are still here today I say, as members of the League, we must continue to honour the dead but fight like hell for the living as we support our fellow veterans and connect them with the mateship, camaraderie, and services they need.

I hope that next year we can gather in-person to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and share our experiences and stories. Lest we forget. 

Image: Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. 11 November 1967. Soldiers from Support Company, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), dodge the downdraft of an Iroquois helicopter during Operation Santa Fe. Source: Australian War Memorial.

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