Since the third year of the First World War, Australians have commemorated Anzac Day.
Today, it is one of the most meaningful dates on our national calendar.
A day when we honour the 103,000 Australians who gave their lives in war and operational service and all those who have served our country.
Twenty twenty three marks two significant military milestones – 70 years since the signing of the Armistice which ended the Korean War and 50 years since Australia concluded its involvement in the Vietnam War.
This Anzac Day, I pay particular tribute to all Australians who served and died in these bloody conflicts.
Noel Heathwood was born in Gympie in Queensland and he was among the Australians who fought at Kapyong in April of 1951.
In that major battle of the Korean War, outnumbered and outgunned, Australians took up a defensive position on a hill. They held off wave-after-wave of Chinese soldiers.
Thirty two Australians were killed. Private Heathwood was wounded and he died days later. He was only 23 years old.
In The Courier Mail on the 30th of April 1951, his family left this notice:
‘Always a smile, never a frown.
Always a hand when one was down. Always thoughtful, true and kind.
What a beautiful memory he left behind.
David Thomas was born in Bendigo, here in Victoria.
Unlike others who were conscripted into the Army, David volunteered for enlistment in 1965.
He’d been a labourer and worked in a local pottery business with his father.
Like his mates, Private Thomas wanted to serve the country he loved, and he hoped his experience in the Army could help him become a mechanical engineer.
In August the following year, his company was in a rubber plantation in South Vietnam.
What would follow was the battle of Long Tan – Australia’s most costly episode of the Vietnam War.
There, 108 Australians held off more than 2500 Viet Cong soldiers.
Private Thomas suffered chest wounds and was killed.
One of 18 Australians who lost their lives at Long Tan.
He was only 21 years old.
In reflecting on the family tragedy, David’s older brother Pat, said that his mother ‘learnt to cope with it but just never got over it’.
Two wars, two young men among many who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Private Noel Heathwood and Private David Thomas – their young faces will be in my mind today as I reflect on the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
To this day, the Korean War can appear as a mere blip on the historical radar, receiving less attention than it should, given the proximate storm of the Second World War.
To this day, narratives of shame and controversy continue to colour the Vietnam War.
Such was the enduring influence of the anti-war sentiment and protests of the time.
But our veterans deserve much better. Our long dead deserve much better.
In the case of Korea and Vietnam, let us never forget this; Australians fought in foreign lands to defend those who desired self-determination and liberty.
To stand against those hell bent on conquest.
Their service and sacrifice was not in vain, regardless of the outcome of those two wars.
Today, satellite images of Korea at night show an illuminated South in contrast to a darkened north.
Today, Vietnam and Australia have a close relationship and shared commitment to maintaining peace in our region.
The values for which we stand are more enduring than any conflict.
As long as we have – like our forebears – the courage and commitment to defend them always.
Lest we forget.
25 April 2023
View the Opposition Leader’s video message here.