Tomorrow is Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day at 10:45am at Memorial Hill when Australians have the opportunity to share in the pride felt by Vietnam veterans.
It is not a memorial about issues, about glorification of war, or the justification of political decisions. Rather it recognises sacrifice and suffering and the honour and sense of duty carried out by 50,000 young men and women. Over 500 gave their lives and some 3,000 were wounded in the biggest conflict in which Australia has been engaged in over the past two generations.
In part because of the divisiveness of the war, and the anxiety of government to put it all behind them, there is a widespread feeling that those who served in Vietnam have and were treated shabbily in the years since. It was a major effort, achievable only by conscription (itself very controversial in Australian history) but the scale never reached anything like that of World War 1 and 2: not every household was profoundly affected, not everyone knew someone who had gone or who had been killed and wounded; the economic and social activity of the nation was not mobilised around prosecution of the war. Life simply went on.
The conflict was a strange one of fighting an often unseen enemy. The war initially commanded support, but over 10 years became increasingly unpopular at home with some actively campaigning against it.
Those who returned were not welcomed as heroes, instead people were somewhat embarrassed and keen to have it all forgotten.
That indifference left a scar on the psyche of many. Some found it extremely difficult to adjust, while others re-joined the community but remained pained by the want of recognition. The belated “Welcome Home” parades of 1987 signalled a reintegration and the beginning of a reconciliation which should have begun much earlier. Today’s dedication of the Vietnam Forces Memorial should and will continue the healing process.
By Paul Thomas