AVCAT Chair, Major General Bill Crews AO (Retd) and AVCAT Scholar Thomas lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial Last Post Ceremony on Vietnam Veterans’ Day on behalf of AVCAT
By Bill Crews
On the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial gave all present or who watched on live stream, the opportunity to reflect on both the veterans who fought and the impact of the war on Australia.
First and foremost, we remembered the more than 500 Servicemen who never returned, and the many who have died since as a consequence of their experience. They have all lived shorter lives than they deserved, and their families suffered with them, and continue to do so.
It is important then to focus on what the returning veterans have achieved over those 50 years, noting that their initial return to Australia was generally greeted with hostility from sections of the community who disagreed with the war and the conscription of young men for the cause. Time has largely overcome this hostility. At the outset, Veterans themselves identified the widespread occurrence of mental health issues being experienced by their colleagues, and took the initiative to set up what was initially, the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service, which in turn has evolved into Open Arms, a support service available to all veterans and their families. Veterans of more recent conflicts now benefit from this greater awareness of the impact of conflict on mental health.
When Australia received a compensation payment from the US as a result of our exposure to Agent Orange, widely used as a defoliant in Vietnam, it was Vietnam Veterans who set up the Australian Vietnam War Veterans’ Trust to provide direct support to those who needed it. More importantly, it was a decision of the veterans involved that most of the money should be used for the education of the children of veterans in necessitous circumstances. When this compensation money was expended, the Trust evolved into the present Australian Veterans’ Children Assistance Trust, largely now supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs and other donors, to continue to provide bursaries and scholarships for needy children and now grandchildren. Vietnam Veterans were very mindful of the value of transforming lives through education, and that work continues today.
Many Vietnam Veterans have made significant contributions in all walks of life over those 50 years. This past Vietnam Veterans’ Day was a time to also reflect on those contributions.
In the Last Post Ceremony for 18 August, we commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and remember Private David John E Fisher, who served Australia in the Vietnam War. Watch the ceremony below.