My Federal and State Parliamentary colleagues.
Veterans – I wish to especially acknowledge our Vietnam Veterans as well as the families that love and support you.
Ladies and gentlemen.
We gather today to commemorate Vietnam Veteran Day on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. It is a special privilege to share with you commemorating this anniversary and to deliver the address. My riding instructions for this address are to provide personal reflections on my own experiences and the challenges facing veterans from all conflicts.
As one veteran put it to me – who served in Vietnam – we don’t need you telling us what it was like. We were there! But before I do, I wish to acknowledge and thank all those that served in the Vietnam War. I pay tribute to all the gallant men and women that served in the conflict. Around 60,000 Australians served in the war from all three branches.
That is close to the number that have served in the Middle East on recent operations. 521 Australian service men died. Over 3000 were wounded – injured – or recorded as ill because of their service. I acknowledge the supreme sacrifice of those that gave their lives for our nation.
I acknowledge the sorrow, pain and suffering that their loss caused their families. For every soldier’s death, there is a deep wound to bear for their families that will never heal. It is also our solemn duty to remember those who have passed on in the years since from the effects of their service – and all those that continue to suffer as a result.
I especially pay tribute to the families that have stood by these men and women. As part of today’s commemoration, we also acknowledge the fighting skill and sacrifices of the men who fought at the Battle of Long Tan. In 1966 the Battle of Long Tan was one where deeds of valour were common. The Australians faced an enemy with a 10 to one numerical superiority.
Tragically – 18 Australian soldiers were killed (17 from Delta company) and – 24 men were wounded. It was a battle defined by bravery and endurance.
Today I stand before you as a reservist of 25 years’ service. I belonged to a service corps and never envisaged that I my 40s I would be called upon to serve in a conflict. I was not conscripted. I had a choice when asked – on two occasions – to carry out specific tasks in Afghanistan.
It was a formative experience for me. Especially as an older man living and working amongst soldiers not much older than my own sons. Be assured the young Australian soldier is highly professional and has lost none of that drive and innovation that our troops are traditionally renown for.
I was dispatched to war with minimum of fuss or preparation and returned home as quickly. This is not an uncommon experience of those from the service corps plucked from the reserve and comfortable civilian life and sent to war.
Not being from the regular army, we did not return to a regiment or a community that understood our experiences. We re-emerged and returned to civilian life – not unlike so many Vietnam veterans experienced.
I have this almost surreal memory of sitting in a lounge at Sydney Airport awaiting the flight home, having only a week before been in a forward operating base in south western Afghanistan and all the risk that entailed.
Of course – unlike the Vietnam veteran we had the advantage of not returning to a society in social upheaval and the conflict being extremely unpopular. But reservists like myself share your experience in attempting to reintegrate into normality after a hurried return home. We have been in conflict with Afghanistan for over a decade – and society is desensitised to the sacrifices that are being made in their name in a land – far – far away.
It was this experience that drove me to subsequently become a legatee of Legacy and care for families of veterans in need. For the cost of war outlives the coming of peace, the cost continues to be paid in the lives of the returning veterans and their families. I want to thank the Vietnam veterans for all their advocacy on behalf of all veterans. You are the trail blazers. Despite returning home and your service not being recognised or acknowledged at the time, you did not give up.
You came together and advocated for greater recognition and better services for veterans. It is veterans like myself that will especially benefit from your hard and tireless work. We owe you a debt of gratitude. I thank you for your leadership.
The commemoration of war and battles is an ancient custom. The Greeks built monuments to celebrate their triumphs and recognise the sacrifice of their dead. We gather here today to continue the tradition of remembering sacrifice. We re-tell the stories of bravery and sacrifice at this monument that will outlast us all. But I also see this place as one that represents love and friendship. Love of country, community and family. Honouring those that devoted their lives in the service of others.
Lest we forget.