Vietnam Veterans’ Day Remembrance Service

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land where we meet, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I would like to extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who join us today.

I also acknowledge the current and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) who are with us today. Thank you for your service.

And I also acknowledge the families of ADF personnel and veterans, thank you for your support.

Today, 57 years ago, Australians prevailed against the odds.

On 18 August 1966, while patrolling the Long Tan rubber plantation, the young men of D Company, 6RAR found themselves pinned down for hours by a very large, highly disciplined contingent of the North Vietnamese Army.

Outnumbered by a least 10 to one, the Australians ultimately fought off successive assaults with the help of armour, artillery and air power.

Tragically, 18 Australians were killed and 24 were wounded. It was our costliest single action of the Vietnam war.

Private Glenn Alfred Drabble, was born and raised here in Brisbane, working as a blind installer around this area.

Glenn was a National Servicemen called up in the first draft in June 1965. He went south to NSW for his training at Ingleburn and Kapooka, then landed in Vietnam, serving with Delta company 6RAR.

On this day in 1966 Glenn paid the ultimate sacrifice in that bloody battle.

He was just 21 years of age.

He is remembered not far from here in the Pinnaroo Cemetery and Crematorium. His plaque inscribed with the words: ‘In Memory of our loving Son and My Darling One’.

Long Tan was just one of hundreds of actions fought by Australians throughout the conflict.

Another Vietnam veteran, John Dalton, who was also born in Brisbane, decided to enlist when his birthday was not drawn in a National Service ballot.

He flew to Vietnam on a Qantas flight and arrived in October 1967 as a member of the 4th Field Regiment.

John’s first operation was Operation Coburg and he arrived at Fire Support Base Coral in May 1968, the night after the first enemy attack on the base. He recalled:

“The ashen faces of the diggers that where there the first night … they were absolutely worn out – bloodshot eyes, drawn faces. You could tell they’d been through hell the night before.”

Back home in Australia, the war was also having a devastating impact on wives and families.

Steve Hanley was just 9 years old when he learnt of the death of his father, Warrant Officer Max Hanley. He recalls:

“It was a Sunday afternoon. I remember the army car with the chaplain and the officer, so I knew what had happened. When mum, Marie, was told she collapsed at the door.”

Today we gather to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all those who served during the Vietnam War.

From 1962 to 1973, some 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam.

More than 3,000 were wounded.

And 523 tragically lost their lives.

This year, Vietnam Veterans’ Day takes on even greater significance because 2023 marks 50 years since Australia ended its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Today, including at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra, thousands come to remember and recognise this important anniversary. Just as we do here in Anzac Square.

The Vietnam War was the longest conflict that Australians were involved in during the 20th Century.

All three branches of our Services served in Vietnam with great professionalism and dedication.

Most of those who deployed were from the Army.

Our soldiers spent long periods on patrol. The oppressive tropical conditions alternating between monsoonal rain and stifling heat.

On any one day they could be patrolling through jungle, rice paddies, rubber plantations or hilly terrain.

And then there was the enemy. Elusive and resourceful.

The risk of ambushes, landmines and booby traps ever present.

Despite the uncertainty and the climate, the Anzac spirit shone through.

Those who served in Vietnam demonstrated courage, endurance, teamwork and mateship, sometimes in the face of overwhelming adversity.

As the war dragged on and the death toll mounted, the Vietnam War divided the Australian community and evoked strong emotions.

For the first time, footage of the war was being viewed on Australian television screens.

There were anti-war protests and marches across the nation-including here in Brisbane-and many veterans were unfairly treated when they returned home.

Many were scarred physically or psychologically from their experience of the war. Fifty years on from the end of our involvement, for some these wounds remain.

Soldiers don’t start wars, leaders and politicians do.

Soldiers fight, some paying with their lives to end them.

For that they deserve our utmost respect, admiration and praise.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister apolgised to all Australia’s Vietnam veterans for their treatment in the wake of the war.

On behalf of the Australian government, I again say sorry to our veterans here today and across Queensland.

I thank you for your service and sacrifice.

You served our country with honour and distinction.

We cannot right the wrongs of the past, but we can learn from them and make sure we do not repeat them.

Thankfully this has occurred as in the wake of Vietnam we rightfully recognised the service and sacrifice of Australians in East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and on peacekeeping operations the world over.

You did your duty in challenging and difficult circumstances.

You looked after your mates and you did Australia proud.

For those 523 men who never returned home, we remember and honour their memory.

We also acknowledge the heartache of their families whose lives were changed forever. For more than half a century now, those families have been forced to shoulder the burden of living life without their loved one by their side.

We also thank our Vietnam veterans for the substantial contributions they have made to Australia since the war.

I especially acknowledge their work in establishing the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service – now known as Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling.

The service would not exist today was it not for our Vietnam veterans.

They saw the impact the war was continuing to have on their mates after they returned home and lobbied for a specialised counselling and support service for all veterans.

Today, Open Arms continues to help veterans of all ages and from all conflicts, as well as their families. We are extremely grateful to our Vietnam veterans for this enduring legacy.

In addition, many of our Vietnam veterans have-and continue to be-leaders and integral members of the ex-service community.

We thank you for the valuable role you play in our communities.

As a nation, we will continue to work hard to ensure that our current and future generations never forget your service.

And we will continue to recognise the enormous sacrifices you made in our name.

Lest we forget.

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