Respecting the sacrifice of those who fought

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I have never been directly touched by war. Nor were my parents or grandparents.

My grandfather, as a country baker, was deemed to be employed in an essential service so wasn’t permitted to enlist and my father was too young for WWI.

I missed a possible call-up for the Vietnam War because conscription was abolished in 1972, a couple of weeks before I was to become eligible.

At university that year, I had been surrounded by anti-Vietnam War protests. At La Trobe Uni, we hid draft dodgers on the campus, moving them from college to college as police searched for them.

I observed regular protest rallies from the comfort of the campus coffee shop because I was torn between protesting against an unwinnable war or doing what my country was asking of me.

I listened to veteran soldiers talk about their Vietnam War experiences and I wondered what sort of soldier I would make. Would I be able to kill? Would I cope with the fear? Would I be mentally and physically strong enough to cope with what was going on around me, day after bloody day?

It didn’t happen. Conscription ended in December 1972. Some 63,735 people had been called up for national service in the Army, of which 15,381 were deployed to Vietnam. About 200 were killed.

That’s as close to war as I’ve come.

Jump forward a few years and I’m sent by my newspaper to cover an ANZAC Day service at the Shrine in Melbourne and then the march down Swanston Street.

At both, the tears well and this genuinely surprises me.

I’ve been to a few Dawn Services since, too few I must admit, and I’ve found them all to be emotional experiences. I look at the veterans in their uniforms and wonder if they killed and lost friends or family.

I look at people in the crowd and wonder if they served or whether they lost friends or family, and I think of my own three sons and daughter and try to imagine how I would feel if they left for war.

And now and then, if I find myself near somebody in uniform, I try to get up the nerve to shake their hand and nod, because that’s all I can offer.

The other day I played golf with a chap named Barry who served in Vietnam. He lost a finger, and he jokes that it’s still over there and that hopefully someone will find it and return it to him.

The battlefield on which Barry lost it, he says, is now a car park. Life has moved on, but scars remain. His missing finger is one, nerve damage to his feet is another. Only he and those close to him know of any mental legacies.

I often wonder whether those of us who didn’t serve recognise in a substantial way the sacrifices made by those who did.

Americans observe Veterans Day on 11 November when they honour those who serve and served, and Memorial Day in May when they recognise those who died serving in the military.

In America, veterans are often called on to come forward at major sporting events, and the crowd stands to applaud them.

It’s a nice recognition, for shaking a veteran’s hand, and maybe saying thanks, is pretty much all we can do now. Maybe, in 2018, you can make this your ANZAC Day challenge.

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Study finds 45.6 per cent of Australians won’t commemorate ANZAC Day

A study has found that only 54.4 per cent of Australians plan to commemorate ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day: a distinctly Australian commemoration

Why do I, who never progressed beyond the school cadets, attend every Dawn Service?

Written by Perko


Total Comments: 9
  1. 0

    Funny how it’s been two women in consecutive years who publicly disrespected serving military. Deveney, a frumpy looking unfunny pretend comedian, and the disturbingly at-odds-with Australia Yasmin Abdul Magied. Yes, women. You don’t hear too many men taking advantage of ANZAC Day to further their public profiles. My great-uncle was a boy soldier. Somehow he faked his age and signed up. He “ran away” to war age 15 (we have his photographs in uniform and faded letters from nurses including condolences from General Birdswood (Birdy) who described him as “a very brave boy”. Before the family could track him down, he was in the thick of it. Tom succumbed to measles in France, was sent to die in an English military hospital and was buried in Sutton Veny cemetery where my family journeyed in recent times to pay their respects. We know from his story that his involvement stemmed from bravery and a desire to fight an enemy that he, at such a young age, felt would spread and change our way of life. Old thoughts for a child. So when I read so much about what our country has become in the last couple of decades, I think about my great-uncle and all the other brothers-in-arms who would turn in their graves if they could see how our country is slowly being handed over to minority groups, foreigners and migrant groups who want the fruits of our elders and soldiers, but not the Australian way of life our soldiers died to preserve.

  2. 0

    We do need to get our priorities in order.

    The politics of war or invasion suggest that if we want to do either, it should be head of state vs head of state. Let our PMs and Presidents do battle man to man without the insanity of military might and infantry deaths.

  3. 0

    Somehow we don’t expect war during peace time, to be as serious as being in one of the world wars, but a combat role in any war zone is the same dirty game.

  4. 0

    I was called up towards the very end of conscription, (1st 71 intake) I did my rookie training and corp training at Puckapunyal in Victoria. I volunteered for Vietnam, however as the war was drawing to an end only engineers we being sent over then. I spent the rest of my National Service at 109 Transport Company Canungra in Queensland. Canungra was a jungle traininng centre where everyone going to Vietnam had to go through the training which I was told was the toughest training in the world. I met many soldiers that had been to Vietnam or were about to go over there, and heard many of their stories. They have my greatest respect. I had completed 12 months of my service when the government reduced it from 2 years to 18 months. 6months after my discharge it was abolished altogether. It was a great experience, and was glad I did it, however that might be a very different story if I was sent over to the war.

  5. 0

    Once upon a time, I tried to enlist in the Army. After the physical examination, I was told that I didn’t meet the standards, that I was about a centimeter too short. Come the war in Vietnam my “number” came up in the draw for conscription. At that time, my attitude to serving in the army had changed somewhat and I was dead set against the way Australia was out to assist the Americans. It was a political decision. One that I did not agree with. I made it clear to the examining Doctors that I had not grown any taller and as I had been considered “unfit” once on those grounds, I was still unfit.

  6. 0

    My father died in service. My father-in-law’s health, life and family was totally destroyed. He endured a far worse hell on his return than in a war prison.

    I have close friends who have suffered for a lifetime after volunteering to serve.

    The after-effects linger. The pain, for my family, has never ended. As a child, I marched for my father. No more. ANZAC Day is a day of mourning the cruelty and greed of the ruling class and the stupidity of those they persuade to fight their wars for them.

    My father and father-in-law were ”honoured” in marches and ceremonies, and their families were abused, neglected and deprived in the most hideous and cruel manner.

    I will shake the hand of a soldier, and go away shaking my head in sympathy. I admire his purpose. I am saddened at how he is misled. Wars are fought to protect the wealth and dominance of the ruling class. And we may be close to another. If so, no doubt a lot of ”patriots” will be tricked into making the ultimate sacrifice. And those who survive will return to neglect and even abuse. And meanwhile, the sacrifice of those who have served was all in vain. Look at the nation now! What on earth did they fight for?

  7. 0

    On ANZAC Day let us remember that it is politicians that start wars. Soldiers only fight them as ordered.

    Putting away the medals after this morning’s ANZAC Day service I reflect on this. We have must do everything to ensure that current politicians do not repeat the mistakes of their predecessors and send our sons and daughters to die in other peoples’ wars.

    Lest we Forget.

  8. 0

    I understand the feelings of the author. I don’t understand the politics of events that placed these boys in harm’s way. But I hope every Australian is as proud of them as I am?

  9. 0

    Everyone needs to listen to this what a wonderful speech from Richard Flanagan



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