On ANZAC DAY 1986 the Vietnam veterans took part in ANZAC Day in large numbers for the very first time. As an officer in the Salvation Army I was tasked with leading them on that march down the streets of Brisbane. As we formed up the emotion was palpable for these not so old returned soldiers. Unlike their predecessors from other wars they received no warm welcome home, they knew about the protests against the Vietnam war and were devastated by the lack of support. When they came home people avoided them.
Battered minds and bodies stood tall and marched with purpose and assurance, yet I knew inside each one was a 19 year old boy who had experienced the deep sense of loss, not just of mates killed in war, but the loss of a sense of belonging to a country who was proud of him. Yes they might be cheering this day, but they didn’t when it counted.
After the march and we stood around chatting I asked one digger what it felt like and his reply has chilled me ever since, “Good mate, but too bloody late!’
And it’s not just Vietnam Vets who are affected by the war they fought. I have spent a lot of time with sailors and soldiers who have participated in recent theatres of war and those who simply have seen tragic events in so called peace times. The effects of the experiences stay with them long after the battle or the event.
As we get ready for ANZAC Day let us remember clearly who and what we are commemorating. We are commemorating the ordinary young men and women trying to stay alive in horrendous conditions as a result of others decisions. We are commemorating the heroic acts that they participated in, and still do. We do not commemorate war and the horror embedded within it.
They deserve to be honoured by our memory and our efforts to avoid war at all costs. That is now our duty.
At the school ANZAC Day service the legend of ANZAC was evident. A group of students who are also Army and Air Force Cadets participated. They had no CO to marshall them, so one young man took on the role. He took the cadets, some of whom had only be in uniform since the end of last term, and turned them into a competent and confident troop. The slow march was a credit to them. It was something special in itself. The ANZAC Spirit lives on.