Vietnam Veterans’ Remembrance Day Address, Canberra

 

Thank you your Excellency for such a warm and wise address. Thank you Peter Ryan and your committee for your inspired leadership in arranging today’s commemorations.

You welcomed all of our distinguished guests but like his Excellency, I acknowledge foremost among all of us, our Vietnam Veterans.

In the cool calm of our nation’s capital, we the leaders of your nation and the representatives of the governments of New Zealand and the United States, gather to thank you and honour you, the Vietnam Veterans, for your service and your sacrifice in that long war you fought in the steaming heat and torrential rain of the jungles of Vietnam.

We remember with heavy hearts, the 521 young Australians who laid down their lives in our nation’s service.

And we offer our love and condolences to those who mourn, their lives marked forever by the absence of those young, forever young, Australian heroes.

And we acknowledge today the many servicemen and women who were wounded, often in ways that we have been too slow to recognise and help. Your sacrifice has continued long after your service.

We thank you and we honour you, just as we thank and honour the families of those who served.

We honour and commemorate the courage and the skill of our soldiers fighting on the ground, the pilots and the sailors supporting them in the air and on the sea, as well as the thousands of men and women, in and out of uniform, ensuring those in the front line had what they needed to fight and to prevail.

And on this day we mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, the most costly single engagement for the Australian armed forces during the Vietnam War.

Eighteen Australians were killed, 24 were wounded. They displayed the courage and the selflessness we have come to associate with the Anzac legend.

D Company Commander, Harry Smith, now 83 and in Vietnam today, will join other Australian veterans alongside soldiers who were once their enemies but—as happened with the first Anzacs and the Turks— are now their friends.

It is a friendship born of an experience only those like you who have served can understand.

I thank the Prime Minister of Vietnam for agreeing last night to arrangements which will, after all, enable our veterans and their families who have travelled to Vietnam, reverently to commemorate the battle as they honour all those who fought and died in those fields so many years ago.

To the men and women who served in Vietnam upholding the Anzac values of selfless courage and comradeship —yet did not at the time receive the gratitude they deserved — today we honour you and we thank you.

The bravery and the determination you showed throughout Australia’s service in the Vietnam War is etched into our national story. It has, as the Governor General observed this morning, inspired and inspires the servicemen and women who followed and follow in your footsteps and like you, continue to defend Australia’s values and our nation’s freedom.

Lest we forget.