Vietnam Reflections – Always as One

Address by George Mansford (Cairns 18 August 2017)

Today throughout our nation there will be gatherings such as ours to reflect on our involvement in the Vietnam War and above all, to honour our fallen. In doing so, we also pay our deepest respect to yet another generation of our military currently on operations. It seems nothing changes on our troubled planet

Was it so long ago that our men and women went to war in a place called Vietnam?

It was a time when frequent government lotteries in rolling barrels full of birthday numbers determined which 20 year old males would be conscripted for two years’ military service.

It was a time of anti-war demonstrations and vilification of those in uniform and their families which caused our military to become closer and united more than ever.

It was a time when protesting mobs burnt our national flag and the consequences were that our troops cherished the sacred cloth even more.

In Vietnam our units stood fast in battle. They endured the physical and mental demands placed on them. They refused to relent against what seemed impossible odds on more than one occasion. Always evident was their battle discipline, confidence and trust in each other and even when battle weary, no matter when or where, were the grins.

As well as major battles, it was also a time of countless patrols, ambushes, cordon and search operations, much of which is now long forgotten and gathering dust in history records

Always are the veteran’s memories of such times. How could they ever forget the wok wok of the beloved Huey and the familiar drone of the Caribou or perhaps they were on one of the warships patrolling a very dangerous coast line. The nurses waiting at the landing zone called Vampire ready to receive yet another group of wounded.  Do you remember counting the days until it was one day and a wakey before going home and so many dreams to pursue?

It was a time of varying farewells such as watching mates struggling with heavy packs and weapons boarding a chopper or armoured personnel carrier to commence another operation. Departing on Rest and Recuperation to escape the madness for just a few days or going home. No matter the circumstances, always was the firm hand shake, sharp wit, a hug, a wave, a thumbs up as a fond farewell or perhaps a shout of “Take care”. Unknowingly for some, it would be for the last time.

There were forgotten lessons of war from previous campaigns and re-learnt the hard way in Vietnam. There were also new lessons learnt in Vietnam which have since been neglected or distorted thanks to social engineering and the continual onslaught of political correctness.

 Common was the immense camaraderie, determination, wry humour and battle discipline which demonstrated that the magnificent qualities of the original ANZACs had not been diluted.

There was pride, duty, honour and acceptance of responsibilities which had been developed from early age in our society then strengthened in the military during training and mastered on operations.

It was a time of loved ones waiting for news and dreading any unexpected knock on the door. We should never forget the wives, mothers  and families who bore the brunt of isolation, not knowing and always searching for mail and the media for any fragment of news. They met the challenges with dignity and stood the test. Wives were both mother and father and always praying that the next knock on the door would not be by a grim faced official

At war’s end it was a time for adjustment and sadly that was not to be for so many who thought they had come home but hadn’t. There are still those who confront the consequences of war in so many ways.

There were those who in desperation said “enough is enough” and left us to join the fallen.

Today the ranks grow thinner and always are the increasing nudges from Father Time to remind all of their mortality. If the fallen could speak, perhaps it would be to remind all “Who they were and what they were”

They would say “Australia is indeed the lucky country and will remain so, if you, the living strive to keep it so”

They would remind us “To fight the good fight for what you believe to be right”

They would demand “Honour us by your actions as active members of the community; for you are us and we are you. While you live, we live. ”

GM 7/2017

                   

 Reflections of War

On this special day, old warriors will meet here and there

To recall times of duty and when they did dare

To honour fallen comrades, perhaps with a band or choir

Others will reflect at home, even a park bench or beside a campfire 

Father Time has caused more gaps in the ranks since last year

Often a gentle nudge from the River Boatman who is ever so near

Memories will be stirred of comrades, laughter, song, mud and tears

For many, the haunting sounds of battle and sudden fears

Waiting for hidden death to explode in a silent jungle so green

Listening to familiar sounds of wocking blades soon to be seen

Watching a Caribou* high above and all wondering where it had been 

Knowing our warships patrolled a coast line so dangerous and mean 

The electric shout of “contact” and collision with danger yet again   

Fleeting shadows, hostile sounds, racing pulse and heat or drenching rain

Devoted nurses waiting for Dust Offs* loaded with dead and dying 

Casualties in blood soaked muddy rags with grins and rarely crying

Finally came that last roll call and war weary veterans said hooray

Soon after, the first glimpse of excited loved ones screaming “gidday”

Days or years later, waking from nightmares of battle and reaching out

Believing they’re alone, no matter how often they shout 

The gathering will end and the square will be silent once more 

In lonely rooms, parks or by dying campfires, some will ask “What for?”

Whatever they were or what they did or did not do

Let no one forget, they were all as one who served true blue

They march with pride in the column until the next life to be 

Always will be their example of duty, honour and love of country 

Even after the Boatman has taken all of them from life’s stage

Their brave deeds remain forever in many a history page

George Mansford© July 2017

 

*Dust Off— “Dedicated and Unstinting Service To Our Friendly Forces”

*Caribou—RAAF aircraft

 

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