A DAY TO REMEMBER
Flag raiser Bill Lee takes time to remember at yesterday’s reduced Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony at Shepparton’s cenotaph.
The numbers were thinner, the ceremonies shorter and the wreaths fewer — but the memories and the mateship were as strong as ever.
The Goulburn Valley Vietnam Veterans Association held a shortened remembrance service at Shepparton’s cenotaph yesterday due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Face masks were as prominent as service medals among the 60-strong crowd — but the medals were shinier and worn with more pride.
Association president Peter Dealy reminded the crowd that August 18, 2021, was the 55th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, in which 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against more than 2000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation in the pouring rain.
Eighteen men of D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment lost their lives and 24 were wounded on that day in 1966.
Guest speaker and Vietnam veteran Stan Whitford delivered a powerful reminder of the human cost of war with his moving account of fellow veteran Michael John Berrigan with whom he served in Vietnam.
Mr Whitford said when Mr Berrigan suffered a brain injury after being hit by shrapnel from ‘‘friendly fire’’ during Operation Santa Fe in November, 1967, he was eventually flown back to Australia to recover.
Mr Whitford was injured the previous day in the same operation and flown to a nearby military hospital.
In his address yesterday, Mr Whitford said over subsequent years, Mr Berrigan’s condition deteriorated to the point where he became paralysed, lost his speech and suffered seizures and bouts of anger.
Mr Berrigan died in 2011 — 44 years after his catastrophic injury in Vietnam.
“There are few things as evil as the atrocities and destruction of war,” Mr Whitford said.
“When soldiers die in battle they are said to have made the supreme sacrifice. But to live on in pain, frustration and anger progressively destroys you.
“Today we remember those lost or damaged physically or mentally as a result of war. Whether you are here today to be with mates or help others appreciate the true significance of Vietnam Veterans Day, we should also give a thought to the families — like Mick’s — who carried the burden for so many years,” he said.
Mr Dealy said while Vietnam Veterans Day was a time to remember, it was also a time to share with mates.
“It’s a day to get together socially and not just talk about war, but to remember the funny things and the stupid things that happened — it’s a common thread and a shared experience,” Mr Dealy said.
Following the Australian withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent return to power of the Taliban, Mr Dealy encouraged returned Aussie veterans to take heart.
“I know what the circumstances are and how it’s all turned out — but be proud that you have given that service. You had a job to do and you did it to the best of your ability,” Mr Dealy said.