Today throughout our nation there will be gatherings such as ours to reflect on our involvement in the Vietnam War and above all, to honour our fallen. In doing so, we also pay our deepest respect to yet another generation of our military currently on operations. It seems nothing changes on our troubled planet
Was it so long ago that our men and women went to war in a place called Vietnam?
It was a time when frequent government lotteries in rolling barrels full of birthday numbers determined which 20 year old males would be conscripted for two years’ military service.
It was a time of anti-war demonstrations and vilification of those in uniform and their families which caused our military to become closer and united more than ever.
It was a time when protesting mobs burnt our national flag and the consequences were that our troops cherished the sacred cloth even more.
In Vietnam our units stood fast in battle. They endured the physical and mental demands placed on them. They refused to relent against what seemed impossible odds on more than one occasion. Always evident was their battle discipline, confidence and trust in each other and even when battle weary, no matter when or where, were the grins.
As well as major battles, it was also a time of countless patrols, ambushes, cordon and search operations, much of which is now long forgotten and gathering dust in history records.
Always are the veteran’s memories of such times. How could they ever forget the wok wok of the beloved Huey and the familiar drone of the Caribou or perhaps they were on one of the warships patrolling a very dangerous coast line. The nurses waiting at the landing zone called Vampire ready to receive yet another group of wounded. Do you remember counting the days until it was one day and a wakey before going home and so many dreams to pursue?
It was a time of varying farewells such as watching mates struggling with heavy packs and weapons boarding a chopper or armoured personnel carrier to commence another operation. Departing on Rest and Recuperation to escape the madness for just a few days or going home. No matter the circumstances, always was the firm hand shake, sharp wit, a hug, a wave, a thumbs up as a fond farewell or perhaps a shout of “Take care”. Unknowingly for some, it would be for the last time.
There were forgotten lessons of war from previous campaigns and re-learnt the hard way in Vietnam. There were also new lessons learnt in Vietnam which have since been neglected or distorted thanks to social engineering and the continual onslaught of political correctness.
Common was the immense camaraderie, determination, wry humour and battle discipline which demonstrated that the magnificent qualities of the original ANZACs had not been diluted.
There was pride, duty, honour and acceptance of responsibilities which had been developed from early age in our society then strengthened in the military during training and mastered on operations.
It was a time of loved ones waiting for news and dreading any unexpected knock on the door. We should never forget the wives, mothers and families who bore the brunt of isolation, not knowing and always searching for mail and the media for any fragment of news. They met the challenges with dignity and stood the test. Wives were both mother and father and always praying that the next knock on the door would not be by a grim faced official.
At war’s end it was a time for adjustment and sadly that was not to be for so many who thought they had come home but hadn’t. There are still those who confront the consequences of war in so many ways.
There were those who in desperation said “enough is enough” and left us to join the fallen.
Today the ranks grow thinner and always are the increasing nudges from Father Time to remind all of their mortality. If the fallen could speak, perhaps it would be to remind all “Who they were and what they were”.
They would say “Our nation is indeed the lucky country and will remain so, if you, the living strive to keep it so”.
They would remind us “To fight the good fight for what you believe to be right”.
They would demand “Honour us by your actions as active members of the community; for you are us and we are you. While you live, we live. ”