A little while ago I sat and listened to my mate grieve over the treatment of Australian boys returning from service in Vietnam in the early Seventies. In the late Sixties, his marble had dropped and he was drafted. Mine hadn’t. He trained for war at Kapooka to the raucous shouts of veteran sergeants. I went to university at Kensington, and heard the raucous shouts of student protestors on campus.
My friend was on the verge of transferring to Vietnam when Australia withdrew its troops. But as we talked fifty years later, he expressed deep offence on behalf of the vets who had animal blood thrown over them and were taunted as ‘baby killers’ as they marched home.
The activists could well have been students from my uni. The cancel culture was in full voice even then. What would they say now if they were confronted with the subsequent human cost in terms of PTSD and suicide among those vets?
Walking the length of the memorial wall in Seymour Victoria a year ago, I was startled to find the name P Roe etched among the thousands of young men my age who’d served in Vietnam. ‘That could have been me,’ I thought. ‘What a difference it would have made if my marble had dropped in that conscription lottery in March 1969?’
The long, backward look along that tree-lined memorial avenue gave me perspective. It was clear I needed to pause before casting judgement. What would I, as a 20 year old have done if I’d been thrust into the jungle-front-line to face a hidden enemy?
It’s right to salute those young blokes who bravely did what they saw as their duty. My mate and I have decided that our best present response is to set our hearts to love what’s true, to show mercy to those who may have offended us and to walk humbly alongside our neighbours in the sight of God.
It was good to read that yesterday, the dominant note in commemoration of the end of the Vietnam conflict was respect and gratitude for the remaining veterans. I hope there was healing.
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.