At our 85 Transport Platoon Reunion in Albany WA last week, I was interviewed by the local TV news service. This is the item that appeared on the news on the evening of our Vietnam Veterans Day Parade
The address at the parade was given by our own Paul Asbury (Lt Col Retired). Paul was a young officer in Vietnam, not long out of officer training. His address reflects the views of Vietnam Veterans in Australia.
VIETNAM VETERANS’ DAY ADDRESS: 18 AUG 2017. Albany – Paul Asbury
This day commemorates the service and sacrifice of all Vietnam veterans. It also celebrates the spirit of mateship and mutual assistance that characterises the self-help attitude we now share, learned the hard way – in the face of political hostility and media misinformation. This date is auspicious, for it is on that day in 1966 that ‘D’ Company, the 6th Battalion RAR, fought its splendid action in the rubber plantation of Long Tan.
But, while acknowledging that gallant action by those men, we remember also that our South Vietnam Campaign fought during the ten long years to 1972 was noted for a number of intense Australian combat actions that should be equally well known. Heavily fought actions such as:
- the 1967 battle of the “Long Green” during Operation Bribie;
- the killing grounds at Firebases Coral and Balmoral in mid 1968 where the NVA mounted multi-regimental assaults over many weeks on Australian units deployed across the enemy’s approaches to Saigon;
- and the 1969 Battle of Binh Ba where an enemy main force battalion was destroyed by Australians just seven kilometres from (our Task Force base at) Nui Dat.
- There were other fierce combats too, whether on patrol, clearing mines, waiting in ambush or protecting civil infrastructure construction teams.
We should always remember our history from that time:
- that Australian combat forces were withdrawn from South Vietnam in early 1972;
- that the January 1973 Paris Peace Accords were signed by North Vietnam and the United States – leading to the US withdrawal by March 1973;
- and that North Vietnam, in the face of those Paris peace terms, invaded the South in such strength that Saigon rapidly fell to enemy assault in March 1975.
Except for the crowing of the media, the world was silent.
The 1962-1972 Vietnam Campaign history that we Veterans share has a backdrop of an Australian society that seems no longer to exist. Then, most were prepared to undertake their military duty – after all, the institution of National Military Service had only been absent from our society for five years before its re-introduction in early 1965. Then, a man could still count on a handshake to seal an agreement; politicians could still be publicly held to account; a nation could be expected to support its military forces in the field, as the experiences of Korea, Malaya and Indonesian Confrontation showed. And strong moral concepts of right and wrong were still clearly visible within Australian society and community, despite the new concept of television starting to push the boundaries of public acceptability. We took responsibility for our actions, and the dole was a rarity.
So we marched off to war, confident in our Nations’ support, the cheers of the people who farewelled us at dockside and airport, and relying on our political leaders and elders to provide the leadership that any nation still needs when it overwhelmingly votes to send its young to war. As the casualties mounted, the national and community leadership failed to maintain a proper moral direction. The media much preferred to describe and revel in the wasteful tactics of our major ally rather than cover the far more steady, thoughtful but far less flamboyant, Australian tactics, and the concrete results these tactics produced. Within three years however, and after some of our biggest combat actions, our troops were repatriated home in silence, return home marches were plagued with demonstrators, our leading opposition politicians consorted openly for and with the enemy: and while returned veterans were disowned by most community leaders, the majority of our people remained silent. Most of those activists today still deny their rejection and vilification of Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 70s. But we remember.
Despite the fact that our combat reputation and humanitarian actions throughout our participation in Australia’s war in Vietnam remained unsullied, the more irresponsible of the media attempt still to sensationalise events taken out of context or simply misquoted without apology. We never lost a battle.
Most of us got through this intense disappointment however some could not. They remain broken men today.
Most of us recall the immense damage that was done to fine young men by those spineless community and political leaders. We Vietnam veterans are determined that the same must not be allowed to happen to more generations of servicemen and women who, like us, served their country faithfully and with honour. New places like Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and others.
Locally, Albany has gone down in history for the number of ships which assembled and sailed from here into WW1. On a smaller scale, 71 men and women born in Albany served in Vietnam plus many more residents past and present.
I would also mention the visiting Vietnam Veterans from 85 Transport Platoon here today. We are some of the 458 (500) men who served in that Platoon from 1967 – 71. For most of that time it was based at Nui Dat, not far from SAS Hill, a place remembered by many.
Finally, this is the day that we Vietnam veterans remember and commemorate the dead and damaged, and recall the sad standard of political and community neglect that greeted us on our return home. It is this last factor that truly makes Vietnam one of our longest wars, because it is only now that many of our comrades are achieving that peace of mind which should be the right of every soldier who has done his duty first.
Fortunately for today’s latest veterans, I now think that lesson has been learned but they too still need help from the community.