Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP150818: Vietnam Veterans’ Day Address

Vietnam Veterans’ Day
Clark Veterans Cemetery
18 August 2015


Veterans and Members of the Angeles City Returned and Service League - Sub Branch
Veterans and Representatives of:
The Special Forces Association;
The American Legion Post 123;
The FRA 367;
The Disabled Veterans Association;
Members of the Returned and Services League -Australia
Other Special Guests and visitors to the Philippines.

Good Morning.

It is my great pleasure to represent the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines and former Ambassador to Vietnam His Excellency Bill Tweddell.

Bill is passionate about Vietnam Veterans Day and has stood before you here on three previous occasions. And todays he sends his regrets.

This year we commemorate the 49th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan from which Vietnam Veterans Day can trace its origins. This day was originally known as Long Tan Day, chosen to commemorate the 108 Australians and New Zealanders primarily of D Company, 6RAR who 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.

Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, began with a small commitment of 30 military advisors 53 years ago, known as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in 1962, and increased significantly over the following decade.

50 years ago, just after the half century commemoration of ANZAC Day, the Australian Government increased our commitment to a Task Force, including more assets from the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy.

This commitment peaked at just over 7,600 personnel. By the fall of Saigon, 45 years ago in April 1975, approximately 60,000 Australians had served in the Vietnam War; 521 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.

The Vietnam War had become Australia's longest war; and was only recently surpassed by Australia's long term commitment of combat forces to the War in Afghanistan.

For the veterans the Vietnam War was tough and coming home was painful. Many veterans, their families and their children suffered vilification and abuse. Although the war was a controversial, that was so unfair, because the quarrel was with the government of the day, not the troops who were doing their duty.

Many of our Vietnam Veterans continue to carry the burdens of their service. They are a remarkable generation of men who, together with their families, have fought hard to ensure that their service is never forgotten.

I enlisted in the Australian Army in 1983 and many of my Instructors were Vietnam Veterans, particularly Non Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers.

They were tough men who instilled a culture of train hard to fight easy. A culture that would carry a generation of young officers and soldiers through the years of the Great Peace until we found ourselves in Somalia, Rawanda, Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. The tradition of ANZAC and the wisdom of our Vietnam Veteran Instructors imbued us with a legacy that ensured that we did not falter.

And as I once benefitted from the guidance of Vietnam Veterans during my formative years in the Australian Defence Force, I can see another opportunity for the Veteran Community to impart another legacy that transcends their wartime service to the nation.

We are starting to see, in the generation of soldiers who have, and continue to, return from operations in East Timor and the Middle East, much higher levels of PTSD than exists in wider Australian society. Many of our young men and women are struggling.

Defence Force support mechanisms are much improved from those that existed in your day, and these veterans aren’t faced with the public approbation that you were perhaps subject to, however increasing numbers of them face the same uphill battle dealing with personal demons that many of you only too well understand.

In not too many years from now, after the passing of the last WWII and Korean War veteran, you will comprise Australia’s senior veterans. By accepting the new generation of Veterans into your established community, and by offering them the benefit of your wisdom and counsel, you can show them that their personal traumas do not have to be faced alone.

Individually or as the Vietnam Veteran community, how you go about this I will leave up to you. But personally, as a recipient of the wise counsel of Vietnam Veterans in my junior years, I can see no finer way to perpetuate the legacy of honour, sacrifice and comradeship embodied in the Vietnam Veteran community than by extending the hand of friendship to the young men and women of the ADF, some retired from the service and some still serving, who need a shoulder to lean on.

I will leave you with that thought.

To conclude, it is fitting that we continue to honour our Vietnam Veterans with this special day on our nation’s calendar, where we recognise those who paid the supreme sacrifice on active duty, those who were wounded and all of their families that were impacted by the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972.

Lest we forget.