Honouring Vietnam veterans

August 18 was Vietnam Veterans Day, and WA veterans are reflecting on their journey since the end of one of Australia’s most polarising conflicts.

The commemoration day marks over 50 years since the first Australians were deployed to Vietnam for a conflict that lasted more than 10 years and claimed the lives of hundreds of Australian soldiers.

Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War. Infographic: Cate Graham.

President of the Vietnam Veterans’ Federation of Australia WA Branch, Milton Kirk JP, served in the Second Special Air Service Squadron from 1968 to 1969.

Mr Kirk says Veterans Day is a time for friendship and reconnection.

“At Vietnam Veterans Day we are able to meet up and catch up with people that we served with or that we know served in Vietnam as well and the comradery and the mateship that is shown amongst all the people is fantastic,” he says.

The veteran says “it’s hard to describe the feeling” of reuniting with a fellow veteran.

“It’s fifty-two years since I first went to Vietnam, to see someone that you haven’t seen for forty years is absolutely remarkable,” Mr Kirk says.

However, Vietnam veterans haven’t always felt so welcomed in Australia.

“The Vietnam war it wasn’t a popular war, we all know that,” he says.

“Vietnam veterans, when they returned from the war, they weren’t very well treated and they weren’t accepted by organisations like the RSL.”

Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia WA Branch president Richard Williams OAM experienced a warmer welcome from the RSL after his return from Vietnam, however he was not immune to community apprehension for the Vietnam War.

“On a couple of occasions, there were a couple of people in town that were a bit [unwelcoming], but I just ignored them,” he said.

With the number of veterans from the Vietnam War starting to dwindle, Williams is hopeful that a large turnout at this years memorial service will quell fears that the Vietnam Veterans Day will eventually die out.

Mr Williams is concerned about the future of Vietnam Veterans Day. Video: Cate Graham.

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