Australia honours Vietnam veterans

Vietnam veterans at 50th anniversary service in Canberra

On 18 August more than 2,000 Australians gathered in the nation’s capital to honour the service and sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans.

The National Commemorative Service on Vietnams Veterans’ Day was the culmination of a historic year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Some 60,000 Australians served in the war, more than 3,000 were wounded and 523 lost their lives.

Throughout 2023, Australians are recognising the contribution of our Vietnam veterans, their service in Vietnam, the sacrifice of their families and their role as integral members of the community in the decades since the war.

On 18 August, a year of recognition culminated in a solemn and dignified commemorative service at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra.

Broadcast live by the ABC, the service included a Commemorative Address by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Matt Keogh, who expressed heartfelt gratitude for the service our Vietnam veterans gave in Australia’s name:

‘You were given an impossible job, and you did it well. And you looked out for your mates, every step of the way. Fifty years from now, generations yet unborn will see those names enshrined on our national memorial, and they will know your story.’
-Minister Matt Keogh

VIPs including the Governor-General, Ministers, senior ADF representatives, diplomats, and most importantly – hundreds of Vietnam veterans – came together to reflect on Australia’s longest 20th century conflict.

Among them was His Excellency  General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), who told Vietnam veterans they are part of the Anzac legacy, and their fallen mates will never been forgotten:

‘I want this to be clear: your nation is proud of you, grateful for what you did when your country called on you and will always remember that sacrifice.’
Governor-General David Hurley

The Vietnam War was at times contentious at home and for some veterans their return home raised mixed emotions. The recognition afforded some soldiers, sailors and airmen upon their return varied greatly in the immediate aftermath of the war, and for some that lack of recognition would make for a bitter welcome home.

It is estimated that there are about 35,000 surviving Vietnam War veterans in Australia. While that number inevitably dwindles with the passing of time, the nation’s determination to remember and honour them remains resolute.

Reflecting on the respect and pride emanating from the throng gathered on Canberra’s Anzac Parade, Max Ball, National President of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia, said many veterans continue to remember the hardships they faced and that for some, their fight continues:

‘Vietnam veterans can and should look back on that era with some misgivings, but with a maturing sense of pride that they endured in a difficult and testing field of combat. For our friends and colleagues who did not return we say again: Lest We Forget.’
Max Ball

Amidst the hardship and constant threat of harm, there were fond memories of mateship on the frontline and enduring friendships back at home.

For many veterans, the war encompassed some of the best years of their lives. Noel McLaughlin, proud Vietnam veteran and Chairman of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Corporation, spoke of a generation who served in a war that defined an era:

‘We were not treated well when we came home. We felt abandoned by Australia. It’s a wonderful thing to see this acknowledgement and appreciation of our service, and of our sacrifice, in remembrance of those mates whom we loved and lost on active service.’
Noel McLaughlin

Among a number of initiatives this year, the Australian Government has produced a 50th anniversary commemorative medallion and certificate of recognition honouring the service of Australians who served in the Vietnam War. More than 22,000 of the medallions have already been distributed.

The medallion and certificate continues to be available to all Australian men and women who served  in Vietnam, and to the family of veterans who have since passed away or were tragically killed during the war.

To apply, please visit the DVA website.

You can view a selection of photos form the ceremony on the DVA Flickr page