THE new Long Tan Cross mural at the Water Tower Museum became the focus for Vietnam Veterans Day in Gunnedah on Sunday, with veterans and other service personnel joined by members of the community to honour those who served and commemorate those who have died.
It was a very moving time of remembrance with the haunting sounds of the Last Post rising to the faces of those pictured around the Long Tan Cross and the hearts of the veterans seated below.
The Long Tan Cross became the symbol for all Vietnam veterans after it was raised to honour the 108 men from D Company, 6th Battalion, who were outnumbered at least 10 to one in a rubber plantation four kilometres to the east of Nui Dat on August 18, 1966. Seventeen Australians were killed and 25 were wounded, with one later dying from his wounds.
Among the many veterans who attended the commemoration was former Cessnock resident, Neil Rankin, who was the platoon sergeant of 10 Platoon, D Company, 6RAR in 1966. He fought in the battle of Long Tan and was involved in the placement of the Long Tan Cross in 1969. Mr Rankin and his wife Fay travelled from Queensland for the commemoration after hearing about the ANZAC Day launch of the murals. Mr Rankin is one of the soldiers pictured in the mural.
Vietnam veteran Peter Capp, who served with 7RAR, offered prayers for the 60,000 Australians who served between 1962 and 1972, remembering the 520 young men who were lost and the 3000 who were wounded.
Those who died - we honour- together with those who suffered, who participated, or supported.Peter Capp, Vietnam veteran
Reflecting on the recent 50th anniversary of the battles on and around Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral, when 26 soldiers lost their lives and 100 were wounded, Mr Capp said it was appropriate that the 18th day of August (Long Tan Day) is used to serve as a reminder of an involvement in which many Australians died over a 10 year period.
"Those who died - we honour- together with those who suffered, who participated, or supported," he said.
"Can those of us who are left really do this effectively, only once a year - and then that's it? Or for those out there still struggling with self-doubt, can we do more?
"Many of us here today with ground trooper, naval or air-force experience have felt the anger and hate from past anti-war activists who have sought to occupy the moral high ground, with accusations of 'murderer' or child killer'.
"If we'd done more a generation ago, I'm sure veterans then and now would more easily transition back into the more civil, less violent culture they'd been sent to defend in the first place."
Mr Capp said the fundamental purpose of a government should be to to include not only the need to protect its citizens against evil from within but to protect also from evil outside.
"Few would argue that the Christian belief is in Jesus calling us to be peacemakers but the question is, when is going to war justifiable in God's eyes?" he said.
"This has to be answered in the first place by the executive leaders. They are the ones who have to answer 'when is our nation's sovereignty being directly threatened?"
Mr Capp underlined his belief that when war is considered 'justified and righteous' a country's leadership 'should never enter into it with low testosterone'.
"And if an all-or-nothing commitment is expected from defence force people - then they need the same from those who sent them there," he said.
"May the peace of God then guard the hearts and minds of all of us to be of good courage and to hold fast to what is good."
The prayer for those who made the supreme sacrifice was read by veteran Neville Steele (RAN) with Armoured Corps veteran John Commins offering the prayer for veterans' families and the citizens of Australia.
The veterans were deeply touched by Jack Trappel's rendition of the epic Red Gum song I Was Only 19. Accompanied by conservatorium guitarist Dominic Goodwin-Hauck, Trappel touched the emotions of everyone sitting under the gaze of the Long Tan Cross.
The sounds of the Piper's Lament filled the air as Ross Beasley played in the background and wreaths were laid by RSL representatives and Warren Barwick in memory of his brother Phillip, who died in 1988, as a result of his war injuries. Gunnedah veteran David Stewart Barron Walker, who died on August 5, was honoured by his sister Dixie Walker as she laid a wreath at the foot of the cross.
The Last Post and Rouse were sounded by Gunnedah Shire Band bugler Amity Cleal and the Ode for the Fallen was delivered by RSL Sub-Branch president Peter Kannengiesser.
The motto of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia is 'Honour the dead but fight like hell for the living' - veterans gathered at the Long Tan Cross mural on Sunday will never forget and their support for those who served will never waver.