SPEAKING UP: Vietnam War veteran Wayne Peters, who is also president of the Ballina Ex-Army Association, gets ready for Vietnam Veterans Day.
SPEAKING UP: Vietnam War veteran Wayne Peters, who is also president of the Ballina Ex-Army Association, gets ready for Vietnam Veterans Day. Doug Eaton

Vets learn to talk about it

RETURNING home from the horrors of the Vietnam War, the last thing Wayne Peters expected was for the general public to turn on him and his fellow soldiers.

"We were yelled at and protesters threw things at us," Mr Peters said.

"Once, in Sydney a uni student threw a cup of urine in my face. I couldn't believe it.

"It was the only war ever where the protesting public picked on the soldiers and not just the government.

"We were hated.

"People turned on us even while we were away at the war - the posties refused to deliver our letters and our mail was one of the things that kept us going through the war.

"A lot of the time we were forced to rely on the Americans for supplies.

"We started wondering why we were there in the first place."

Mr Peters - who now lives at Riverbend in Ballina and is the president of the Ballina Ex-Army Association - served in Vietnam with the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in 1969.

He said his tour of duty was 12 months, 11 days and "so many hours - but I'm not counting".

Arriving back in Australia in January 1970, it didn't take him long to realise that his life would never be the same again.

"I had kind of known what to expect; I'd come home for R&R the previous September," he said.

"But once we were home, we never talked about where we'd been and what we'd done.

"We held it all in."

Mr Peters did that for more than 10 years until, finally, it became too difficult.

"I knew I was crook; something was wrong," he said.

"I found a counselling service. They said to me, 'Mate, it's not just you. There are thousands of men like you'."

It was the support of Mr Peters' family - particularly Wendy, his wife of 48 years - that got him through those dark days.

But he doesn't regret his Vietnam service.

"I just don't want anyone else who serves for this country to go through what we went through," he said.

"It was a very bad time.

"That's why, on Vietnam Veterans Day, we have to talk about these things so that it never happens again.

"The more we do that, the more chance there is that other people won't suffer."

VIETNAM VETERANS DAY EVENTS

Saturday

  • Far North Coast Vietnam Veterans Association march from 5pm, led by the Lismore Pipe Band, from the old post office along Molesworth St to Memorial Park.
  • Memorial service and wreath laying after the march.
  • Vietnam Veterans dinner from 6.30pm at the Lismore Workers Club, Keen St. For bookings phone Sheldon Maher 6624 4486 or Murray Cooper on 6624 4750.

Sunday

  • Evans Head memorial service, 10am at the cenotaph.
  • Ballina RSL Sub-branch commemoration service at the cenotaph opposite the RSL from 4.45pm.


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