Today, we commemorate Vietnam Veterans’ Day.
We remember the Vietnam War – one of the bloodiest struggles of the 20th century, and an event which generated controversy and public protest on a previously unseen scale.
Amidst the politics, the calamity, and the increasing public antipathy, there were Australians in uniform, serving their country, fighting to halt the march of communism.
The majority were from the ranks of our regular force, having joined willingly.
But around 15,000 Australians who went to Vietnam were conscripted under the National Service Scheme.
Regardless, all who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1973 did their duty diligently and with distinction.
For Australia, Vietnam was predominantly a ground war.
As the Official History notes, there were no front lines.
The enemy had infiltrated South Vietnam and could be present in any village, jungle, mountain or swamp.
With the Viet Cong conducting hit-and-run attacks, setting booby traps, or lying in wait to ambush patrols, there was little rest or respite for the Australian soldiers.
Despite showing courage, skill and resolve in extremis – in the battles of Long Tan, Coral-Balmoral, Binh Ba and more besides – many Australian veterans did not receive the homecoming they were expecting.
Some were subjected to outright hostility and accused of war crimes.
Others were treated with ingratitude or indifference.
Many felt they did not receive adequate medical support to deal with their wounds or enduring trauma.
As historian Peter Edwards acknowledges, there were instances where veterans felt disillusioned or betrayed – their families, friends, workmates and communities neither understood nor wanted to understand what they had experienced.
That is why Vietnam Veterans’ Day is such an important day.
A day to recognise that our nation disrespected and mistreated many of our Vietnam veterans, and a reminder that we must never repeat the mistakes of the past.
A day to honour the more than 500 Australians who died, and the more than 3,000 who were wounded.
And a day to acknowledge the almost 60,000 Australians who served, including all those still with us, many of whom continue to bear wounds seen and unseen.
In that, the stand against authoritarianism, the sacrifice made for the cause of freedom, has mattered, will continue to matter, and will always matter.