Vietnam Veterans’ Day commemorations

A recap of Vietnam Veterans’ Day services, and reflections on the 50-year anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the conflict.

At a glance:

  • Vietnam Veterans’ Day honours the service and sacrifice of 60,000 Australians who joined the conflict.
  • This year marks 50 years since the proclamation to end Australia’s involvement in the war.
  • The RSL in NSW has apologised to veterans who were turned away or refused membership by some RSL sub-Branches upon their return home.
  • RSL sub-Branches across the state exemplified the RSL’s values of mateship, commemoration and camaraderie at services to mark the day and anniversary.

Vietnam Veterans’ Day commemorative services this year proved especially poignant, with 2023 marking 50 years since the proclamation to end Australia’s involvement in the war.

The day, originally known as Long Tan Day to commemorate the men of D Company, 6RAR, who fought in the battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966, honours the service of the 60,000 Australians who joined the conflict and remembers the 523 lives lost.

Here’s a recap of the Sydney commemoration service and others held across the state, and an RSL NSW member’s reflections on the 50-year anniversary.

Sydney commemoration service

The official NSW commemoration service at the Martin Place Cenotaph in Sydney was attended by The Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of NSW; The Honourable David Harris, NSW Minister for Veterans; and RSL NSW President Ray James OAM.

Members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps were also present, while Jim Sinclair of Helensburgh RSL sub-Branch gave an Acknowledgement of Country. A number of war widows also joined the commemoration.

The service featured a performance from Patricia Thelma ‘Little Pattie’ Amphlett, who was the youngest Australian entertainer to perform for soldiers in Nui Dat in 1966. She sang What a Wonderful World backed by the Australian Army Band Sydney.

Apology to Vietnam veterans

In his address, James, on behalf of the League in NSW, apologised for the mistreatment of many veterans who returned home from the conflict – and reaffirmed the League’s pledge to stand for all veterans now and in the future.

“Some were spurned by veterans of previous conflicts, turned away and refused membership by some RSL sub-Branches in NSW,” said James. “Those who were turned away were left isolated, without access to key support services or a network of like-minded peers.

“The Returned and Services League in NSW strives to be a place of protection and safety, of camaraderie and union, where every veteran is welcome and no one is left behind. We all have a part to play in achieving that.”

Read the apology in full here.

Barry ‘Jack’ Carroll of Ashfield RSL sub-Branch served in Vietnam as a forklift operator and is one of thousands of veterans who flew with the Skippy Squadron.

“It was nice to attend the service and reflect, after 50 years, on all the people who served,” he said. “It was also great to see so many war widows.”

Carroll said that earlier in the year he accompanied another member of the Skippy Squadron, Rohan McCardell, to a commemorative march in Albury-Wodonga, where they received a warm welcome by the community.

“There were 200 to 300 Vietnam veterans who marched,” he said. “At one point all the Vietnam veterans were asked to stand, and when we did we received a round of applause.

“It brought a few tears to the eye to have people finally be thankful for our service. Not many people have thanked Vietnam veterans for the job we did.”

Sub-Branch commemorations

RSL sub-Branches across NSW organised commemorations that recognised the service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans and invited the wider community of veterans – and their families – to join in the spirit of mateship and camaraderie.

Dozens gathered for a service held by the Engadine RSL sub-Branch. Grahame Edwards, formerly of 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1967/68), gave an address and wreaths were laid by veterans of conflicts in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

View more photos from the service on the sub-Branch’s Facebook page.

Flags were flying high for a commemorative service organised by Maclean RSL sub-Branch, which was attended by Ian Tiley, the Mayor of Clarence Valley Council, and fellow councillors. The laying of wreaths was accompanied by a lament played by Alister Smith from the Maclean Pipe Band.

View more photos from the service on the sub-Branch’s Facebook page.

Canley Vale RSL sub-Branch organised a lunch for all sub-Branch members, their partners and other guests prior to a presentation ceremony that saw a certificate and medallion presented to nine Vietnam veterans in recognition of their service. An address was made by the Honourable Dai Le MP, Federal Member for Fowler and patron of the Canley Vale RSL sub-Branch.

Sub-Branch President Richard Pritchard thanked Canley Heights RSL Club President Ennio Fettchetti and the Board of Directors for their support.

For more news, veteran stories and information about upcoming commemoration services,
sign up for the RSL NSW monthly newsletter.

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