McRae family embraces Anzac spirit
Robin McRae feels an enormous amount of pride watching the New Zealand and Australia flags flying at Anzac Day services.
The returned Vietnam veteran is a second generation serviceman. His father, Peter McRae served as a NZ Airforce radar operator in the South Pacific in World War II.
Robin’s daughter Kelly Clow, retired NZ Navy Lieutenant Commander, is the family’s third generation to serve in New Zealand’s forces.
In July 1969, Robin left New Zealand, headed for Vietnam. He was 19, excited and fearless.
‘‘I was absolutely bulletproof,’’ he says. ’’It was a good time for the army. You got to see and do things that you wouldn’t have otherwise.’’
He left behind his teen-aged fiancee, Lynda.
He served with the 161 Battery, one of the youngest of 130 men. They joined conscripts from Australia.
‘‘They were professionals, and did a bloody good job,’’ he said.
He says in the year-long tour, there were three-to-four days where the situation was dangerous for the men of 161 Battery.
But for the most part there was a lot of waiting around. And he used the free time to write letters home to his young fiancee Lynda.
The Vietnam war was well covered by the media. Information coming from the United States depicted that the North Vietnamese, primarily using the Viet Cong, had the upper hand.
That is not how Robin remembered it.
‘‘They had a strong uprising but they were crushed.’’
This misinformation meant the returned servicemen did not receive a hero’s welcome.
‘‘It made me angry at the time, but it made the guys tighter knit, we looked after our own.’’
Whilst he attends Anzac Day to honour his tour and all men and women who had served, it is the ANZAC’s of Gallipoli for whom he had the greatest respect.
‘‘Focusing on Gallipoli, I look at what I learned from their experiences. The campaign utterly guts me. It went wrong from the start.’’
He is pleased to see parents with young children attending Anzac Day services, paying their respects.
‘‘It looks like it will honoured for some time yet.’’
When Kelly signed up for the NZ Navy, Robin knew the odds were favourable for her.
Her 10-year service, as an electrical engineer, took her to the Gulf, in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Robin passed on what advice he thought would be most helpful. She listened to her dad and did as he suggested.
‘‘I was concerned their personal weapons training wasn’t be very good.
‘‘I told her to make friends with the armourer and learn to fire her weapon.’’
Robin says while serving their country with the armed forces is a bond they share, it’s not one they discuss often.
‘‘You don’t want to fall into the trap of telling war stories over and over again.
‘‘I occasionally think about my time. There are things I saw that are burned in my memory forever.’’
Kelly Clow (nee McRae), Robin McRae and Peter McRae are three generations of servicemen and women.
Robin McRae, right, was one of the youngest to serve with New Zealand’s 161 Battery in Vietnam.