Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War continued longer than any other conflict of the twentieth century. Beginning as a small commitment in 1962 and concluding in 1975.
Approximately 60,000 Australian’s served in Vietnam with the loss of 500 lives and over 3000 wounded. There was little opposition to our participation in the early years, however this changed as perception grew that the war was being lost and conscripts were increasingly being deployed, killed and wounded.
For many of those returning from Vietnam the public anger regarding this country’s involvement in the conflict was personal. Many were shunned and disrespected by elements within the community.
Through the efforts of Vietnam Veterans and their families, the public conscience eventually came to understand that these men and women had been in Vietnam on the direction of their government and were doing their duty. As an act of national recognition, in 1987 Prime Minister Bob Hawke declared the 18th of August each year would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day.
Accepted and respected
There are many Vietnam Veterans who call the Mid North Coast home and I have spoken to a few to get their thoughts on Vietnam Veterans Day.
Mr Wayne Mason of Stuarts Point, a former National Serviceman served in Vietnam as an Infantry soldier. He considers this day is a time to remember all of those who served and did their duty, irrespective of their views on the conflict.
Mr Bill Shepherd of Nambucca Heads, says he does not think back fondly on his time there but remembers those who were killed in action.
Mr Brian Duncan OAM of Nambucca Heads, served in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR), on the first large deployment of combat troops to Vietnam. He says this day provides comfort to many veterans as it demonstrates they are now accepted and respected by the Australian public.
Each of the three Veterans had a different experience on their return to Australia. Mr Mason recalls arriving back in Australia very late at night and generally being shielded from public view, possibly to avoid protesters.
Mr Shepherd remembers being shunned by one RSL Sub Branch on one occasion as the ‘old and bold’ did not consider Vietnam a war, then being overwhelmingly welcomed by another RSL Sub Branch.
During a welcome home parade for 1 RAR in 1966, Mr Duncan was witness to the much-documented actions of a young lady covering herself with red paint and smearing it on the battalion’s commanding officer.
In response to a question I posed to these gentleman regarding their advice to veterans returning to Australia from recent conflicts, their response was similar.
They recommend accepting any help available, that is intended to assist with integration back into the community, to understand there is help for you and to trust your judgement.
Mr Duncan added it is important not to lose contact with your mates who had been through the experience with you, as it is often they who can best understand issues you may be having and be able to lend a helping hand.
Nambucca Valley commemorations
For the Nambucca Valley the 2018 Vietnam Veterans Day Commemorations will be held at Stuarts Point. The service will begin at 11am (gathering at 10:45 am), August 18, 2018 at the Memorial on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Marine Parade, followed by lunch at the Stuarts Point Bowling Club.
About the author: Mick Birtles is a recently retired army officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the issues effecting veterans on the Mid North Coast.
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