Vietnam vets pay homage to mates
THE heartbreaking skirl of pipers from the Lismore City Pipe Band led 30 Vietnam veterans down Lismore’s Molesworth Street to Memorial Park on Saturday night.
Drinkers emerged from the Civic Hotel to pay their respects to the returned servicemen as they passed, and to call out to those they knew.
The vets, now well into middle age, joined 20 or more others to commemorate those who didn’t survive the South-East Asian conflict – 520 Australians altogether.
About 300 people gathered in the park – family members, well-wishers and dignitaries – to sing and pray and lay wreathes.
Page MP Janelle Saffin, State MP for Lismore Thomas George and Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell were among the many to offer floral tributes at the going down of the sun.
‘Mateship’ is the key memory of the war for Ray Collyer, of Wardell, who was an infantry man in Vietnam from December 1966 to December 1967.
While he enjoyed the re-union with those comrades who returned from the conflict, the day was also a solemn occasion, he said.
“Every one of us has mates who didn’t come back,” Mr Collyer said.
“When you hear that Last Post played, you get welled up. Most blokes do.”
The day also means ‘an awful lot’ to Lismore veteran Peter Gooley.
“It’s a day to remember all the Diggers who died in all the wars, and especially Vietnam,” Mr Gooley said.
He was there from 1969-70, and still remembers ‘lobbing over there’, as a scared 19-year-old conscript, ‘not knowing what was going to happen to me’.
“But we had to do it,” he said.
Vietnam Veteran’s Day is held on the nearest Saturday to August 18 each year.
The date is also the 44th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, the first major fire-fight for the Australian troops. Eighteen were killed in the battle, and 23 wounded.
Vietnam was the longest operational commitment of Australian forces, said Sheldon Maher, secretary of the Far North Coast Vietnam Veterans’ Association.
Between mid-1963 and 1975, about 60,000 Australian servicemen and women took part in the war, either directly or in support roles, he said.
More than 3000 were brought home maimed or sick, and many have died since as a result of war-related wounds or disease.
“Many others still bear the physical and mental scars of war,” Mr Maher said.
He said the North Coast had a huge proportion of Vietnam veterans.
For some, the hardships continue.
Mr Maher said numbers for the march were down on previous years.
Many vets just aren’t well enough to face it, he says.