IT WAS the longest and most protracted and controversial conflict in military history - the Vietnam War.
In the steely blue sunlit silence, broken only by their tinkling medals, Returned Servicemen and women gathered recently to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day at Evans Head.
Ironically, the service is held in memory of one of the country's darkest military days since World War II, when 18 Diggers lost their lives at the Battle of Long Tan on August 18, 1964.
Australian support for South Vietnam in the early 1960s was politically motivated, in keeping with the American policy of stemming the tide of communism, especially in Asia where it was perceived as being too close to home.
When the Australian government announced in 1964 the dispatch of a taskforce including conscripts called up under the National Service Scheme, public support began to decline, and it was a turning point in community perceptions and changing attitudes to war.
Graphic black-and-white war images delivered on the nightly news ensured the fight for public support on the home front became a losing battle.
"We were shunned and forgotten and were even criticised by some when we arrived home," former president of the Woodburn- Evans Head RSL Sub Branch Kevin Saville said at the commemoration.
"This left many deeper emotional scars than the memories of just being there. However, we are not bitter anymore because we cannot change what happened.
"Slowly we have all had to come to terms with this, but importantly now we know in our hearts that what we did was done, and we are proud that we served for our country and our freedom".
From the arrival of advisers in 1962, until the last battalion left Nui Dat in November 1971, more than 60,000 Australians - including army ground troops and air force and navy personnel - saw service in Vietnam.
Of those, 521 were killed and 3000 were wounded.
The Vietnam War remains the cause of the greatest social and political dissent and open debate in Australia's history since the conscription referendums of World War I.