Last Friday marked 50 years since Australia ended its involvement in the Vietnam War and the Gunnedah RSL sub-Branch paid tribute in a service at the Gunnedah Water Tower Museum.
The commemoration coincided with Vietnam Veterans’ Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan in 1966.
Returning home was a bitter-sweet moment for many veterans who suffered from the war politics at the time.
It was decades later that Australian society reflected upon how these veterans were treated.
Gunnedah RSL sub-Branch secretary Jan Commins started the service with a welcome and acknowledgement of country along with the introduction.
“The families need to be remembered also, as they suffered either by the death of a father, son or husband,” Jan said.
“Many service personnel who returned to their families continued to suffer from the mental and physical effects of the ongoing internal battle for the rest of their lives, along with their loved ones.”
A prayer for those who made the supreme sacrifice was read by Peter Hall from the Salvation Army in Gunnedah.
Steven Hopwood sang the iconic Vietnam War song ‘I was only 19’.
Many Vietnam veterans experienced an unpleasant return home which is still carried with them.
It was a theme that was carried throughout the service.
Max De Mestre-Allen drew on his experience as a Vietnam veteran in his address and told the story of another veteran. It was a story showcasing the mismanagement of war veterans in a deeply moving address.
He started by reading an excerpt from a letter written to his sister after an attack by the enemy in Vietnam.
“On the morning of Wednesday, August 17, at 0254 hours, we got hit by mortars. I heard the things whistling through the air and the first two go off. I jumped out of bed and hit the floor,” the letter read.
“About 100 mortar rounds were received with 30 odd landing in our lines,” he said.
Gunner Philip Charles Norris was also there.
He was found walking around with a wound in his head and right temple, conscious but stunned.
It would later be announced he had passed away after being transported to Vung Tau.
“Twenty six years later, at the opening of the Vietnam Memorial in Canberra … members of our battalion went to pay their respects to Phil,” Max said.
“Only to find that his name was not on the wall.”
In 2006 the Department of Veteran Affairs released that he was alive but was unable provide more information due to privacy restrictions.
It was only after letters were written to psychiatric hospitals that Gunner Phil Norris was able to reach out.
“Phil made it quite clear that he wanted his daughter to be found,” Max said. “Mary, [Philip’s daughter], vaguely remembers that her mother married a young man who went to war and never came back.”
Phil was able to reconnect with his daughter and meet his three grandsons only a few years before he passed away in 2010.
“A truly remarkable Vietnam War story that needs to be told and I am privileged to do that,” Max said.
A bible reading was read by Neville Steele and wreaths were laid by Marie Hobson on behalf of the Gunnedah Times, Warren Barwick in memory of veteran Phil Barwick, Kay Wilson on behalf of the Gunnedah Historical Society, Colleen Fuller for the people of Gunnedah, Harry Spradbrow, Malcom Jones, John Connelly on behalf of Vietnam veterans, Malcolm Robinson for the national services, Michael Hull for RA Navy as well as Peter Ruth and John Commins for RSL NSW.
At the end of the 50 year commemoration, Vietnam veterans and RSL members and friends gathered at Club Gunnedah for lunch and refreshments.To order photos from this page click here