As a driver in one of the long­est cortèges of hearses ever in Aus­tralia I was priv­i­leged to con­vey one of our Viet­nam vets along a route lined with thou­sands of peo­ple who turned out to show their re­spects. My ex­pe­ri­ence of this event, and how I felt abou

Living Now - - Living & Learning - By Stephen Denham

Iwill never know Pri­vate Mervyn Wilson. He was an Aus­tralian sol­dier in his late twen­ties who on Jan­uary 8, 1966, was killed by a sniper in the Viet­nam War. How­ever, un­likely as it may be, a repa­tri­a­tion event of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance has con­nected Mervyn and my­self.

On 2nd June, 2016, around 11:30am at the Royal Aus­tralian Air force (RAAF) air base at Rich­mond, Syd­ney, over 50 years af­ter Mervyn died, I was one of 33 fu­neral di­rec­tors stand­ing still and straight, right-hand-over-left-hand, at the rear pas­sen­ger end of their hearses. It was a sunny, early win­ter day.

In the far dis­tance, ma­jes­tic, cu­mu­lous clouds bil­lowed across a blue sky. Sounds from the pri­vate cer­e­mony com­ing to a close in­side one of the nearby air­base hangars – at­tended by rel­a­tives of the de­ceased, the Gov­er­nor-gen­eral and dig­ni­taries – drifted gen­tly across to us through the wind­less air.

About 50 me­tres from where I stood, two mighty C-17 Her­cules air­craft – used to trans­port the re­mains of 33 de­ceased Aus­tralian war vet­er­ans, ser­vice­men and their de­pen­dants from ceme­ter­ies in Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore – sat on the run­way with their load­ing ramps down, ex­pos­ing their cav­ernous cargo com­part­ments.

The black hearses were ar­ranged in three rows of eleven on the vast as­phalt apron of the air base. Teams of Aus­tralian De­fence Force men and women – six bear­ers and one of­fi­cerin-charge as­signed to each one of the 33 coffins draped with the Aus­tralian flag; led by a chap­lain, lone piper and drum­mer – then be­gan their cer­e­mo­nial march to­ward the hearses.

I’d seen the sur­name Wilson on my run sheet, but ex­ten­sive re­hearsals for the event over the pre­vi­ous three days had all but erased that de­tail from mind. Af­ter the team of bear­ers had low­ered, I pushed the wooden cas­ket for­ward over the roller bar into the back of the hearse, tight­ened the lock­ing de­vice and stepped back into po­si­tion, still fac­ing in­wards.

As I awaited the com­mand to close the tail­gate, the sun’s re­flec­tion off

the cof­fin’s brass name­plate daz­zled my eyes. I tilted my head slightly to min­imise the glare. As I did this, let­ters be­came vis­i­ble; out of se­quence, a few at a time. “son … Wil”, “vyn … Merv”. Men­tally, I did a dou­ble take.

Up to that mo­ment, the repa­tri­a­tion cer­e­mony was a pro­fes­sional first for me, and a step into the un­known. I was still rel­a­tively new to the fu­neral in­dus­try. I’d driven a hearse but could hardly call my­self sea­soned. I knew noth­ing of mil­i­tary process and I’d never set foot on an RAAF air­base. Also, my ex­pe­ri­ence of cortèges in­volved only a sin­gle hearse lead­ing a pro­ces­sion of mourn­ing cars.

I knew about the Viet­nam War, of course. But I was too young to be con­scripted way back then, and my un­der­stand­ing of it since had evolved more from mo­tion pic­ture por­tray­als like Apoca­lypse Now and The Deer Hunter, than read­ing his­tory books. I’d never been a sol­dier, and I’d never spo­ken at length to any­one who had. For me, war was some­thing other peo­ple did, an ab­stract thing, but the en­graved let­ters “Pte Mervyn Wilson”, shin­ing into my eyes that morn­ing from the rear end of his cof­fin, changed that for­ever.

There was no time to process what I was feel­ing, how­ever, be­fore it was my turn to peel off and join a sin­gle file of hearses stretch­ing for at least a kilo­me­tre. “Do it for your coun­try”, launched on re­peat reel in my head, as VIPS, fam­ily mem­bers and guests lined the exit out of the base. Out­side, on the open road, the cortège came un­der the es­cort of po­lice on high-pow­ered mo­tor­cy­cles, for the trek from Rich­mond to Lid­combe.

The next hour and a half was one of those ex­pe­ri­ences you might get once a life­time, if you’re lucky. Through a pan­de­mo­nium of colour, noise and emo­tion, the mo­tor­cade pro­cessed along 40-odd kilo­me­tres of Syd­ney’s north­west, past thou­sands of peo­ple along the route – some cheer­ing, some with eyes closed or wav­ing the Aussie flag, many salut­ing, wear­ing mil­i­tary medals, and hun­dreds stand­ing at at­ten­tion, hands over heart.

Through Mul­grave, Box Hill, Rouse Hill, Bella Vista, Win­ston Hills, West­mead – then slowly ne­go­ti­at­ing Par­ra­matta CBD, I willed my­self into a fierce, trance-like con­cen­tra­tion on keep­ing an even dis­tance between my­self and the next hearse. This meant – ig­nore the noise, the faces, smiles and tears, the cam­eras and mo­bile phones, the wav­ing and cheer­ing, plac­ards and flags, the backed-up traf­fic and helicopter over­head. Block out the beep­ing horns of the po­lice mo­tor­cy­clists con­trol­ling the traf­fic ahead, speed­ing past and be­side us on both sides of the cortège; but be wary in case their traf­fic hand sig­nals were di­rected at us.

There was re­ally just one thing I and my driver col­leagues had to do en route – and do well; well enough to avoid an on-road skir­mish in front of spec­ta­tors in their thou­sands, and mil­lions watch­ing live on na­tional tele­vi­sion – that was, sim­ply move my right foot between brake and ac­cel­er­a­tor. Ev­ery­thing else could wait.

Re­turn­ing these 33 war vets, civil­ians and chil­dren who’d lost their lives in the Viet­nam War was a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment. Over­seas op­er­a­tions, the air­craft, air­base and fu­neral in­dus­try all played roles in their repa­tri­a­tion. But this was also a com­ing home on dif­fer­ent lev­els – it in­volved na­tional pride and iden­tity, and clo­sure, not just for fam­ily and friends of the de­ceased, but for all Aus­tralians.

At the end of this event of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, my col­leagues and I felt we had con­trib­uted some­thing – small as that may be in the grand scheme of it all. We got our sol­diers, civil­ians and de­pen­dants that much closer to their fi­nal rest­ing places. In the week to come, they would be trans­ported to these dif­fer­ent locations around Aus­tralia. But for me, it wasn’t un­til a few days later when I searched for more in­for­ma­tion about Pri­vate Mervyn Wilson – who grew up on the NSW Cen­tral Coast – that some­thing else re­vealed it­self.

The ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice, as a wartime rep­re­sen­ta­tive of your coun­try, must be recog­nised and hon­oured – re­gard­less of which par­tic­u­lar war, or its po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary agenda and out­comes; de­spite even the fu­til­ity of war it­self. I could not, and can­not pos­si­bly imag­ine that sac­ri­fice, or what it’s like to be con­fronted with that sit­u­a­tion.

How­ever, some­thing hap­pened to me when I saw an on­line news re­port from early 2015 about Mervyn’s sis­ter sup­port­ing the push to bring home the bod­ies of Viet­nam vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing a hand­some black and white photo of her brother – whom she de­scribed as “the most won­der­ful brother any­one could have”. It was an emo­tion­ally charged mo­ment.

Re­search­ing more, I learnt that Wilson was a stretcher-bearer in the Aus­tralian Army, 1st Bat­tal­ion, Royal Aus­tralian Reg­i­ment – and that he was at­tempt­ing to res­cue a fel­low sol­dier when he was shot dead at Ben Cat, Pooch Tuy. He was buried at Teren­dak (Malacca War Graves Ceme­tery) in Malaysia.

Fur­ther, Mervyn was born on 11 Novem­ber 1936, just 18 years af­ter the day in 1918 when hos­til­i­ties of­fi­cially ceased in World War 1; the day, ever since, that Aus­tralians and peo­ple of other Com­mon­wealth na­tions have re­mem­bered those who died fight­ing for their coun­try. Wilson’s home­town is listed as Granville, NSW, although he grew up on the Cen­tral Coast. I read Eu­nice’s ac­count of her brother at the age of eight, learn­ing to play the cor­net and join­ing The En­trance City Band. Also Mervyn was a life­saver, and de­liv­ered tele­grams on his push­bike; he joined the Army at 25, and served in Viet­nam for 227 days.

I pon­dered the fact I’d had twice the life­time years of this young man, to dis­cover what my life is about. I won­dered what Mervyn might have done if he’d been given the same op­por­tu­nity.

I won­dered how dif­fer­ent his life might have been if he’d been able to re­turn home from the war to his wife and two young chil­dren; or lived to know his grand­chil­dren.

These details filled in the pic­ture; but for me, the pic­ture had al­ready told the story. Look­ing at that first photo, the smil­ing face of the Aussie war hero whose re­mains I had con­veyed past thou­sands of well-wish­ers lin­ing Syd­ney streets, in one of the long­est cortèges of hearses ever as­sem­bled in Aus­tralia – some­how, I was touched by a very real sense of loss.

The repa­tri­a­tion cer­e­mony gave me a first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of how times of cri­sis or tragedy and loss, of high achieve­ment or go­ing beyond – which of­ten bring to­gether all these things – can dis­solve the bound­aries of self, com­mu­nity and na­tion. In these mirac­u­lous mo­ments, we set aside our dif­fer­ences. We pull to­gether in the name of some­thing real. We are all con­nected. n

Steve Denham is a pub­lished writer of non-fic­tion, fic­tion and po­etry. His ebook “A Plate of Eggs” is ded­i­cated to the mate­ship of soul.

The most telling ev­i­dence for the dan­gers of EMRS (elec­tro­mag­netic ra­di­a­tion) is the fact that the play­ers we so dearly want to be­lieve are pro­tect­ing us, years ago all aban­doned ship and do not take any le­gal and eco­nomic re­spon­si­bil­ity at all for fu­ture health dam­age of elec­tro­mag­netic fields from this so-called ‘safe tech­nol­ogy’. Among the ‘sailors’ that have left the boat are the man­u­fac­tur­ers, the tele­com op­er­a­tors, the in­surance com­pa­nies (by not in­sur­ing for health ef­fects of elec­tro­mag­netic fields), and to a high de­gree also the ra­di­a­tion pro­tec­tion author­i­ties, as well as the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In ad­di­tion to this, there are re­sults from an over­whelm­ing num­ber of stud­ies, in­clud­ing: • geno­toxic cel­lu­lar Dna-dam­age • dis­rup­tions and al­ter­ations of cel­lu­lar func­tions like in­creases in in­tra­cel­lu­lar stim­u­la­tory path­ways and cal­cium han­dling • de­creased learn­ing and mem­ory

scores • dis­rup­tion of tis­sue struc­tures like the

blood-brain bar­rier • dam­age and in­duced death of nerve

cells • im­pact on ves­sel and im­mune

func­tions • loss of sperm qual­ity as well as fer­til­ity.

We are not the only species in jeop­ardy; prac­ti­cally all animals and plants may be at stake.

2016 [2] has shown that rats ex­posed to mo­bile tele­phony for two years have an in­creased in­ci­dence of ag­gres­sive brain tu­mours ( gliomas) and ma­lig­nant heart tu­mours (schwan­no­mas). No tu­mours at all were ob­served in the un­ex­posed con­trol group.

This project has been un­der­way for more than a decade, and, with a $25 mil­lion price tag, is the most ex­pen­sive ever un­der­taken by the NTP. The study in­volved more than 2,500 ro­dents, ex­posed to the same type of ra­di­a­tion found in cell phones, at the same fre­quen­cies, for nine hours ev­ery­day, for two years. Even though the can­cer in­ci­dences were re­garded as low, trans­ferred to the hu­man pop­u­la­tion scale such a re­sult still would mean – down the road – a tremen­dous fu­ture cost for the world’s health care sys­tems. The study out­come could re­sult, in the decades to come, in an ad­di­tional 150 mil­lion ex­tra hu­man can­cer cases world­wide, some­thing not eas­ily swept un­der the car­pet.

The sci­en­tists must have re­garded their re­sults of very high im­por­tance since they re­leased them be­fore the en­tire study was com­pleted, a rather un­usual de­ci­sion. As a con­se­quence, from now on, it will be very dif­fi­cult to claim wire­less sys­tems to be with­out risk. To say that the Amer­i­can NTP study is a paradigm-shift­ing one is ac­tu­ally to un­der­state its im­por­tance.

The re­cent mas­sive roll-out of var­i­ous wire­less tech­nolo­gies should be crit­i­cally viewed against this back­ground. The last 100 years we have very sud­denly been ex­posed to ra­dio, TV, com­put­ers, cel­lu­lar tele­phones, wire­less in­ter­net, light ray tubes, com­pact flu­o­res­cent lamps, and house­hold ap­pli­ances of var­i­ous kinds.

And the an­swer is so sim­ple: Of course, we can­not count on any such pro­tec­tive shield­ing since it is just not present. We are more naked than any new­born baby when it comes to such pre­sumed pro­tec­tion.

the im­mune de­fence. The mech­a­nisms behind this are not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine. This is not a mat­ter of ‘rocket sci­ence’ – the ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial evo­lu­tion­ary con­se­quences are easy to grasp, and

Just as we are learn­ing that cell phones are as­so­ci­ated with brain and heart tu­mours, why are we in­stalling more and more of the same tech­nol­ogy next to, or in, ev­ery­one’s homes, of­ten with no le­gal right or prac­ti­cal pos­si­bil­ity to opt out?

Thou­sands of peo­ple have com­plained of tin­ni­tus, headaches, nau­sea, sleep­less­ness, heart ar­rhyth­mia, and other symp­toms af­ter Wifi was in­stalled. Var­i­ous stud­ies have re­ported that elec­tro­mag­netic fields may have se­ri­ous, or very se­ri­ous, side-ef­fects in var­i­ous tis­sues and cells, and es­pe­cially so in the young and very young. Wire­less tech­nol­ogy is nowa­days by many con­sid­ered a public health haz­ard, and al­ready law­suits have been won. There are also reports of Wifi and sim­i­lar sys­tems in­ter­fer­ence with pace­mak­ers and other im­plants. Should we not better value our health, and the health of our fam­ily and friends? It is very im­por­tant that the mem­bers of the gen­eral public im­me­di­ately start to ed­u­cate them­selves and take pre­cau­tion­ary ac­tions of their own. It is too ob­vi­ous nowa­days that we, as cit­i­zens, can­not trust our elected bod­ies or com­mis­sioned author­i­ties. There­fore, it is high time that we all – sci­en­tists, politi­cians, civil ser­vants and cit­i­zens, fi­nally re­alise how po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous for our health may be man­made, ar­ti­fi­cial elec­tro­mag­netic fields re­leased from, and used by, our var­i­ous elec­tronic gad­gets – such as power lines, trans­form­ers and wiring in­side house­hold items, cell phones, tablets, lap­tops, baby alarms, and gas, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity wire­less smart me­ters.

As a reader, do ed­u­cate your­self! Then take a life­style de­ci­sion for your­selves and for your chil­dren based on your own con­vic­tions.

From a public health point of view no more re­search is needed. The proofs in the form of thou­sands and thou­sands of peer re­view-based sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions are over­whelm­ing – now so­ci­ety must dare to pro­tect and to serve. Chil­dren can never be al­lowed to be vic­tims of flimsy ped­a­gogic tools, and ab­sent adult re­spon­si­bil­ity, or to be ex­posed to a Who-clas­si­fied pos­si­ble car­cino­gen. Our ac­tions must solely aim for their needs; not for com­mer­cial greed. n

Olle Jo­hans­son, PH.D., is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of the Ex­per­i­men­tal Der­ma­tol­ogy Unit, Depart­ment of Neu­ro­science, Karolin­ska In­sti­tute, 17177 Stock­holm, Swe­den

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