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ANZAC Day at St Bart's with Patron Graham Edwards

We were honoured to have St Bart’s Patron Graham Edwards join us at an ANZAC Day service held at Lime Street.

Speaking about his experiences in the Vietnam War and the importance of mateship, Graham’s moving speech was followed by words from volunteer chaplain Jeremy, and a delicious lunch for everyone to enjoy.

We asked Graham to provide us with a story that captures the ANZAC spirit.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Korea, and 50 years since the end of our active engagement in Vietnam. Today we especially remember those who served in Vietnam. Vietnam was different from the experiences of those who served in the First and Second World Wars, and who returned to a heroes welcome from a grateful nation.

Many who served in Vietnam came home to the cold shoulder of indifference, ignorance, and in many cases, hostility. Vietnam veterans served with honour, pride, distinction, compassion, humour, and with a disdain for authority.

We had a commitment to our mates which was undiminished from those of earlier wars, and the commitment which well and truly reflected the great spirit and heritage of the original ANZACs.
Our diggers served with immense courage in the fierce battles of Long Tan, Coral-Balmoral, and countless other contacts and running firefights. Raw guts, determination, courage and daring often saw overwhelming odds and superior numbers defeated.

We remember those killed in the huge battles of Long Tan, where an undermanned force of Australians encountered an attacking force estimated to be in excess of 2,000. These Australian diggers, with the support and daring of helicopter resupply and relentless artillery fire, confronted and turned the confident enemy away from certain victory into an incredible and costly defeat.

That battle confirmed the courage, determination and resolve of young Australian soldiers, conscripts and regulars, who’s metal was tested for the first time in such a large battle.

Other battles followed in which soldiers had to come to terms with stinking, insected-infected jungles, torential rain, pitch black nights and putrid rotting environments where we met our enemy in close quarters and beat him on his own turf. And our enemy themselves were hardy, wiley soldiers born to the jungle, committed to their own cause, and resilient fighters.

Whatever the politics or rights or wrongs of our involvement in Vietnam, whatever the spin or bias of ill-informed historians, we should always remember that our Australian diggers served in Vietnam with honour, with courage, and true professionalism.

Any young man or woman who serves in a theatre of war, particularly one as complicated, divided and politically stained as was Vietnam, comes home changed to some degree or other.

It is now 50 years since that 10-year war ended for Australia and it has largely drifted out of public memory just how unpopular our diggers were made to feel when they returned home. Many now forget that 61,000 troops served in Vietnam. 3,000 were wounded, and 521 killed.

For me, in many respects, I was lucky. My wounds were visible. For others, the path was much more pained, difficult and confronting. Their wounds were hidden, not recognised, not understood, and not treated. Many veterans found it difficult to communicate and took refuge deep within themselves. Others retreated behind a camouflage of cloud on emotions, and spoke little of their experiences with the view that if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t understand.

To many Vietnam veterans, suicide seemed the only release. Others felt angry, frustrated, hurt and rejected, and found comfort through isolation, withdrawal and loneliness. Many veterans would go for weeks without thinking about their experiences in Vietnam, but then think of nothing else for days.

Today, thankfully, we recognise and treat post-traumatic stress disorder. That is of particular importance to those that still serve, and those who recently served. Recognition did but come slowly for Vietnam veterans. Many found solace and support through the belated welcome home in Sydney in 1987.

As surviving Vietnam veterans, we’ve been granted the privilege of age. But as age wearies us, we should look forward to whatever years lay ahead with a sense of self acknowlegement and pride in our service.

We owe ourselves peace of mind, and we owe it to our families as well. They have stood by us and their love has been our greatest strength and support over the years.

In our youth we trod upon ground which most others never walked. We confronted fears unknown to our friends back home. We dug deep to shape our character, and we forged the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with our original ANZACs.

I’m proud to have served our nation. I’m proud to be who I am – a Vietnam veteran.

Lest we forget.

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