The Australian government has committed $6 million to fund a commemorative program that honors Vietnam veterans on the 50th anniversary marking the end of Australian involvement in Vietnam, according to Andrew Gee, Australia’s minister for veterans’ affairs and defence personnel.
Commemorations will begin in January 2023—50 years after the Jan. 11, 1973, announcement that Australian combat operations in Vietnam had ended, although some soldiers remained behind to guard the embassy in Saigon until the beginning of July. A total of 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, with 521 killed and 3,000 wounded.
The 50-year anniversary of the war’s end is “a very important milestone,” Gee said Jan. 12 on the Ray Hadley Morning Show on Australian radio. Gee, whose uncle served at Nui Dat, a base near Saigon, in 1967, stressed that Australians need to show their solidarity with Vietnam veterans in their communities.
“The wounds that were inflicted at home still I don’t think have totally healed with many of our Vietnam vets if you talk to them,” he said.
Gee recounted a conversation with a Vietnam veteran in his area who was wounded in Vietnam by fire from an AK-47 assault rifle. The veteran, who can describe the combat events that led to his injuries in detail, said he was turned away from an RSL club (a social club for veterans) on Anzac Day (Australia and New Zealand’s national day of remembrance) “because Vietnam wasn’t considered a ‘real war’,” Gee said. That experience of exclusion causes the veteran to “choke up” with emotion, he said.
“There’s so many stories like that—people being spat at on the streets, being abused as they were on their welcome home marches. It’s a shame, and it’s a shameful chapter in our history,” Gee said. “We’ve been trying to put it right in recent years—and I think this [the 50th Anniversary] is a really good opportunity for us to try to heal those wounds…It’s a great opportunity for our country and local communities to show their respect, their appreciation and their gratitude for all that our Vietnam veterans did.”
A national commemoration service will take place at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra. Other commemorations are being planned all over the country. More details about the events will be made available on Australia’s Department of Veterans Affairs website.
“They served with distinction,” Gee said. “The Australian record in Vietnam is one of success and one of great service in the finest traditions of our armed forces, and all Australians should be proud of them.” V