Local RSL clubs marked the 50th anniversary since the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War last Friday.
“We recognise the importance of Vietnam veterans. This is a significant day for them and we wanted to commemorate it,” SJ RSL secretary Frank Rankin said, who laid a wreath at the Byford Memorial on ANZAC Crescent.
Our local federal members also commemorated the event, with Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh delivering a presentation on behalf of the government at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Canberra. Around 3000 veterans were in attendance.
“Some 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam over more than a decade from 1962. They were nurses and aviators, soldiers and sailors; engineers, civilian aid workers; volunteers and National Servicemen. Some 3,000 were wounded in the line of duty; 523 lost their life,” he said in his televised speech.
“We stand in view of the Australian War Memorial. The names of those who gave their lives for our nation are forever enshrined on its hallowed walls. People, whose families, half a century on, mourn them and love them still. The passage of time has done little to dim that love or dispel that pain.”
On 18 August 1966, Australians and New Zealanders were outnumbered ten to one in the battle of Long Tan.
It was the single greatest loss of life Australia suffered during the Vietnam War – 18 Australians were killed and 24 were wounded.
In the years that followed, Vietnam veterans gathered to commemorate those lost at Long Tan.
“When we speak of the ANZAC spirit, we speak of having your mates’ backs, no matter how dire the circumstances,” Mr Keogh said.
“But when our veterans returned home from Vietnam many felt unsupported, unrecognised. In marking 50 years since the end of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, we honour and thank all those who served, and the sacrifices of their families.
“You have made your nation proud.”
Shadow Minister for Defence and veteran Andrew Hastie attended a service in Mandurah alongside Deputy Prime Minister Peter Dutton.
“Of the 60,000 Australians who served, around 15,000 were conscripted through the National Service Scheme,” he said.
“In the decades since their homecoming, they have successfully petitioned for services and support to our veterans. We thank them for that important work and legacy. That work has built a better future for the new generation of Australians who have seen war and peacekeeping service.”
Their deep sense of mateship led Vietnam veterans to lobby the government for a specialised mental health service for veterans and their families. In 1982 the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service was established.
“That’s a really important legacy,” Mr Keogh said.
“The research that has occurred as a consequence of what we’ve learnt about mental illness and PTSD in particular, because of what was confronted by our Vietnam veterans, is terribly important, not just for them but for all of the contemporary veterans that have come after them as well.”