Vietnam Veteran Graham Drews during the march down Molesworth Street in Lismore to commemorate the soldiers who fought in Vietnam.
Vietnam Veteran Graham Drews during the march down Molesworth Street in Lismore to commemorate the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Marc Stapelberg

Mates march as brothers in arms

MARCHING with other Vietnam veterans reminds Ray Collyer wartime sacrifices he and his mates made were not in vain.

On Saturday, Veterans marched in Lismore for the annual Vietnam Veterans' Day ceremony to commemorate those who fought in the gruelling South-East Asian conflict.

"It's the one day we all get together and see our mates," Mr Collyer, vice-president of the Vietnam Veterans Federation Far North Coast Sub Branch, said.

After returning home from the Vietnam War, many Australian troops were ostracised and had physical and mental scars.

"For a long time there was a lot of animosity towards the veterans," Mr Collyer recalled.

"We were just doing what the government asked of us.

"Right or wrong, it's like any decision in life, you make it based on the information you have at the time and do the best you can.

"It wasn't until '87 when a lot of these guys started coming out of the woodwork and began to be proud of what they'd done."

The first major battle during The Vietnam War which Australian troops were involved in was the 1966 Battle of Long Tan, where 18 Australians died and 23 were wounded.

"We all lost mates over there," Mr Collyer said.

"You get thinking about them in your own deep thoughts and you remember them."

On Saturday, Mr Collyer said numbers were slightly down at the Lismore march because Ballina and other suburbs also held commemorative ceremonies.

However, a pipes band, members of the armed forces, ex-servicemen and their families attended the Lismore march and a wreath-laying ceremony in Spinks Park.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of the majority of Australian troops from The Vietnam War, which was the longest operational commitment of Australian servicemen and women.

Of the 60,000 Australians who took part in the war, almost 550 Australian service personnel died and more than 3000 were evacuated with wounds or illnesses.



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