Student Zone: Vietnam veteran remembers
- This is a copy of Mylee’s essay submitted to the Honouring Australian Vietnam Veterans Competition run by the Department of Veterans Affairs in Canberra.
“I feel I helped saved a lot of lives and that is very special to me. It is something I cherish. I was happy to do my job because I knew I was making a contribution and hopefully saving lives. Some other people may see it differently but there were always jobs that needed to be done.”
Private Linton Allen
THE conflict of Vietnam was a consequence of a feared world epidemic.
Towards the end of the Korean War in 1953, the French-based colony had lost all control. American President, Eisenhower, regarded the situation as a replicated Korean War – fighting the North communists to prevent the spread of communism. Correspondingly, the expected downfall in the trading economy would largely impact Australia, New Zealand and Japan, encouraging an altered political context to combat communism.
In an effort to contain communism, the United States commenced supporting South Vietnam. When conscription was introduced in Australia, 1965, her defence troops were then ready to actively participate.
Private Linton Allen:
“That is a hard question to answer,” Private Linton Allen stated after being asked what his most dangerous operation was.
“Had a price on my head, a good bounty for someone if they could get us.”
A part of Mr Allen’s contributions to the efforts was civil aid.
Many medics provided band-aid medicine to local villages, which therefore formed alliances, “winning over the village people”. Consequently, the Viet Cong observed this, harmed the civilians involved and left them for our troops to find, stripped of clothes and murdered.
Private Allen, one of two Vietnam veterans who I interviewed to complete this reflection, was a well respected ambulance driver of 8 Field Ambulance who served 12 months in the Vietnam War.
Enlisting in Melbourne 1966, Mr Allen described himself as “not particularly academic” and did not know what he would have done without military experience.
In Vietnam, he provided bandaid medicine to the villages (minor civil first aid), travelled to and from Saigon for medical supplies, drove through easily ambushed trails to bring blood to casualties in need of infusions, and underwent many dangerous operations to provide medical attention to our wounded.
Upon being asked if he would have done anything differently, he stated, “I don’t think I had the opportunity to be completely honest. We had a job to do. We did it. I was a private soldier at that stage, I didn’t have a say in what we did, I was simply doing as I was told.”
“We were encouraged to wear civies, not uniform. We arrived at 12am in the morning, so as nobody saw us and we all bent down and kissed the tarmac.”
Mr Allen speaks of many good experiences and memories but, he described the best as being the day he arrived on Australian soil. The innocence in this quotation is palpable.
From talking to our beloved Linton, many of his experiences can somewhat relate to a modern society.
He believes friends will always be there to support you where family may not be able to.
His optimistic and respectful persona is one that can be learned from. He happily shared some of his fondest, along with darkest, memories from throughout the war.
Private Allen served with compassion and pride, embracing our Anzac spirit, even after being spat at for wearing uniform.
Private David Thompson:
Private David Thompson, of the 5th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, served in the Vietnam War as an infantry soldier when conscripted in 1968. Conscription was among the largest issues causing a division in the Australian community throughout the efforts.
“I was 20 years old when I was drafted. No, I wasn’t frightened. It was a good opportunity to gather my thoughts over the next two years. There was an element of feeling that divided our age group; it divided our generation.” He explained his initial thoughts of being drafted. “I was a firm believer in the domino theory; we were doing our bit in our effort to stop communism. In hindsight, I’m not too sure about that anymore.”
Mr Thompson’s main role was to prevent the Viet Cong from reaching their supplies coming from North to South, to “search and destroy”, ambush hostiles and endure patrols through the thick Vietnamese jungles. “We were on quicksand the whole time; it was quite nerve-racking.”
At the commencement of the Vietnam War, Australia pushed our ally, The United States, to become an active participant in order for Australia to contribute as well. As a strategy to ensure and guarantee protection from a communist population that was rapidly overruling many countries at the time, the issue, later on, only led to countless protests. Once being invited to join the efforts to fight with the political puppets of South Vietnam, Prime Minister Robert Menzies became aware of the number of regular servicemen being insufficient for sustainable service, hence, the issue of National Service arose. Conscription was divisive within every aspect of any community throughout the war. In Australia, the Vietnam War split the population into civilians and soldiers. The military forces were divided by status - national service or regulars. Among these drafted, there were men who despised the issue and others who were unfazed. However, all soldiers shared the common belief that they were to complete their duty with pride.
When asking why the war was so controversial, and conscription in particular, Mr Thompson replied with, “Because of people our own age that were against it. It was a divided opinion in our age groups. Their was a revolution of people our age, hippies supposed the era to be one of liberation. It’s because they didn’t want to go. It was a sign of the times, sort of a revolution that none sort of expected, it’s hard to put the finger on.”
Private David Thompson was reserved throughout the interview and tended to avoid sharing even his fondest memories. However, he did say the happiest day of his service, along with the saddest, was arriving home to his family although this meant leaving his friends behind. “I was unable to relate to people my age when I got home,” he said.
“When the welcoming home parade did come along, though, it was like a sigh of relief. I think the rest of Australia was a bit remorseful for the way they treated us veterans.”
“I don’t know if anyone wants it honoured or remembered but it’s just something that is history. I don’t believe it should be honoured. I think it should be remembered. Australian soldiers are as good as any in the world. We all played a significant role. It was all the same. Didn’t make a difference if you were a national serviceman or regular, as good as anyone else. You seemed to be able to relate to army service and that’s about all I can say.”
The history of the Vietnam War is tainted by opinion. As a result of televised propaganda, the Vietnam soldiers were despised and had to deal with the consequences upon integrating back into society, oblivious to their ‘wrong doings’.
To honour ANZAC’s service is to acknowledge this huge aspect in Australia’s wartime history.
Today we commemorate every man to have sacrificed his ordinary life for war.
Our soldiers were honouring our country, defending her land, so we should honour their patriotism. Our soldiers honoured the ANZAC legacy; we should honour their determination. Our soldiers honour the fallen.
Why should we not also, to show we do not forget?
Private Linton Allen drove across the harsh terrains of Vietnam to ensure soldiers received crucial medical attention, saving lives. Private David Thompson prevented the Viet Cong from accessing supplies, contributing to the allies’ superiority, which stopped the spread of communism. The soldiers returned to an unappreciative community where they were shunned and rejected.
I feel that now is the time for our generation to respect their profound service. To honour their efforts is to prove our appreciation for country and man.
“It’s one day, a special day, ANZAC Day. It should be honoured and remembered for memories of the people who fought before us. For everyone, for myself, my brother, father and grandfather. The men who came home with lost limbs, the problems they have come home to, the fallen,” Private Allen reflected.
As a diary entry of WW1 soldier and artist, Ellis Silas, stated; “As I look into the distant future when the sound of guns is but an echo of the past, in grand array shall I see the spirits of these, my comrades marching past, who in greatness of their souls have handed to future generations a fuller, deeper meaning of the word patriotism.”
We are reminded of the fundamental reason to remember, honour, respect and appreciate this service from Australia’s history.
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