On this the 52nd anniversary of Long Tan we are yet again united as one common entity however it is not only the bravery at Long Tan we remember but other bloody battlefields now recorded as part of our military history, and some which are now etched as battle honours on regimental colours and others that are not. The savagery of Ho Bo Woods and the Iron Triangle, the stubborn defence at Coral and Balmoral, the determination in the mine cladded Long Hais, the bold aggressiveness at Binh Ba. The sudden and desperate Tet Offensive, the Training Team fighting from lonely and isolated outposts throughout the provinces. The travails of the Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam and the support by the many RAAF squadrons doing selfless work.
It is also a time for us to reflect and recall our mates in ambushes and the lonely patrols that were never recorded in our history. Perhaps you were one of those magnificent Caribou crews operating in cloud shrouded valleys resupplying lonely outposts, the chopper crews, onboard a warship operating in dangerous waters, or at the hospital waiting for the next casualties. Where ever you were and whatever you did, Vietnam embraced all of you as it embraced the families at home. The mothers, fathers, wives sweethearts and friends.
You served in different units at different times, in different places, and since Vietnam have experienced varying fortunes of life. Some good, some bad, but today we are again as one family. In being here back on parade as a group, today is a timely reminder to our nation that there are certain facts we will never allow to be extinguished by time, nor tolerate the truth being distorted, nor allow lies to be recorded as fact.
We are here to insist that those veterans who suffer are not neglected. We need no beggar bowls. We need no politicians to amuse us. But simply provide what is rightly due and what has been earned by our less fortunate comrades.
And what of the past? When they burnt our national flag we loved it all the more and that’s an indisputable fact. It was a time of ridicule but we saw only pride in our units and regiments, for we were never defeated on the field of battle, and there was every reason to stand tall. That too is an indisputable fact! It was a time when many at home betrayed us but we drew comfort from each other and the bonds of comradeship grew stronger until they became indestructible. That too is an indisputable fact.
And when we talk of yesterday there are other images of that time when as a result of conscription many young Australians exchanged their surf boards, footballs and cricket bats for a pair of military boots and a slouch hat. And in a short time their passion for sport was replaced by apprehension and fear while bunker busting, cordon and search operations, patrolling, attacking, ambushing, and mine clearing to name but a few operational tasks. Politicians would be wise to remember that.
Equally the youngsters’ venues were no longer the playing fields, discos or dance halls of Australia but the happy farm at Nui Dat, a lonely RAAF base, a bunk on a destroyer, a weapon pit or waiting for casualties at an Army hospital. Politicians should try to understand that.
Today we honour those comrades who did not come home. Youngsters who would never whack that cricket ball for six, who would never catch the big green wave, who would never score the winning try, who would never fulfil their love, who would never be able to pursue their dreams and those who thought they had come home but continue to live their personal nightmares or struggle to cope with physical disabilities and the minister for Veteran Affairs should make an effort to try and understand all of this.
We remember them as they were and will never forget the wonderful qualities which they, and you, the surviving veterans shared. Qualities that you can continue to demonstrate, qualities that future historians will recognise and generations yet to be born will read about, qualities that have been with the armed forces since the genesis of ANZAC, qualities that today’s youngsters can emulate.
Was there a higher standard of discipline than yours while on operations? The personal sacrifices, helping and caring for others, sharing the dangers, the heavy loads the last tin of food and the last of the water. To still grin when nothing went right, and willingness to accept responsibility beyond your rank. Such qualities are still needed today and which will stand all of us in good stead, they are qualities that you, the youth from yesterday, can continue to demonstrate to the young generation of today, Progressively our ranks grow thinner and that in itself is a reason to bond even closer. It no longer matters who you were, what you were, when you served, or what you did or did not do, what matters now is you all continue to share a common bond and ensure your past standards and reputations are not prostituted, we owe that to the fallen and those since gone.
There is an even better reason to stand fast together, to demand a better deal for our disabled mates, to ensure that those men and women currently serving on operations and those who follow are not politicised nor ignored by indifferent and self indulgent politicians. It is also a time to remind our national state RSL leaders that they must be in the vanguard to pursue and maintain the rights of veterans. Dare I say it is also a time to ignore the distraction of a government handing out cheap medals in an effort to distract and fragment a united cause.
Despite such inappropriate government treatment, despite the indifference to many of our comrades all of us must continue to be a vibrant element of the community and not isolate ourselves from it.
We must never lower our standards. We must attack relentlessly with energy and sound argument to peruse our cause but never to the point of vilification or personal abuse. These were the techniques of those who demonstrated against us when we were once young and we detested all of them for it; as veterans we are above that and abuse should not be part of our armoury. You are veterans who still stand tall and can look anyone in the eye and say with pride. I served in Vietnam with the best mates this country could offer.
Perhaps the fallen would say, “nothing has changed, we are still you and you are still us. Only you, the living, can change that.” Perhaps they would add ”nothing will break the bonds of friendship from the past while you remember us and do as we would have done, for your life is our life, your joy is our joy, our memory is your personal conduct, today tomorrow and beyond.”
Seize the day old friends. Enrich your life with those qualities you developed as warriors. Bask in the camaraderie that is there to be absorbed. Stand tall, your past demands it. Your fallen comrades would expect it of each and every one of us.
Until the next roll call, take care.