“I was born in 1946 – young men born from 1945 onwards were being called up to join a war that wasn’t ours. They were my contemporaries. They were being conscripted to fight in a war most of them did not believe in, a war they believed was morally indefensible and futile.”
Some came back suffering from PTSD because of the terrible things that happened to them. Many never recovered.
Today we remember them.
Vietnam Veterans Day falls on August 18th every year, remembering the contributions made by Australians in the Vietnam War. Today the 18th August specifically, marks the 48th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
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On that day, 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. The Australians prevailed, but only after fighting in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun, but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base, and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded, the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian task force had arrived a few months earlier. After the battle the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.
Australia’s commitment of troops to the Vietnam conflict began in July, 1962 and continued until November 1971, with 60,000 Australian servicemen and servicewomen completing active service. Most of those who performed active service would be over 60 today.
Of the enormous service-force, 521 were killed and over 3000 were wounded, and many more suffer mental and physical disorders to this day, so many years after the last troops returned home.
The divisive issue of conscription weighed heavily on young Australian men and their loved ones in the era of the Vietnam War.
Whether Australia should send troops to Vietnam, and how those troop numbers should be found, was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Protest marches and demonstrations against the war and against conscription were the order of the day from the late sixties.
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How many ‘over 60s’ remember the protests in Melbourne in 1966 when President LB Johnson, accompanied by Prime Minister Harold Holt, drove through the inner city to the jeers and boos of students (I was one of them!) There were even a few rotten tomatoes carefully aimed at the President’s motorcade.
The first Moratorium March in 1970 saw more than 200,000 people take to the streets, 100,000 in Melbourne alone. It was largely peaceful but the second a few months later, in Sydney, got violent. Police attacked protesters with batons and there were many arrests.
Have a look at this terrific piece of footage from the ABC This Day Tonight reporter at the scene of the first Moratorium and share your thoughts and memories of Vietnam today.
So today, on Vietnam Veterans Day, we stop and say thanks to the veterans who stepped up for our Country and placed themselves in danger in someone else’s war. And we remember all those who were lost or to this very day suffer because of their efforts.
Share you memories of the era today.
Parts of this story were contributed by Jane Mundy.