Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 09 Hansard (Tuesday, 18 August 2009) . . Page.. 3281 ..
when, in a “hot extraction” from a helicopter, he fell from the helicopter. He was recovered last year and returned to Australia last year after 40 years. To have his family there was quite significant.
The remaining two missing in action from Vietnam, as you would probably be aware, have been found recently—Flying Officer Herbert and Pilot Officer Carver. It is great news that they will be returned to Australia in December. In some ways, that closes a chapter on that conflict, but many people are still living with the after-effects.
I would like to congratulate the Vietnam Veterans Association for the conduct of the ceremony today. It was very well run. In particular I mention Jan Properjohn and Pete Ryan, who did a very good job.
The war itself is littered with tales of individual and collective heroism. Coming from the military, I can say that it is certainly part of the Army’s folklore. In battles such as Long Tan, battles in the Long Hai hills and the battles of Binh Bah and Coral and Balmoral—the list goes on—there were tales of incredible heroism and courage and of dedication to duty.
There is no finer history than that of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. They were the first unit into Vietnam and the last unit out, serving for more than 10 years in that conflict. In the time they were there, over 1,000 Australians served in the Training Team Vietnam. It is the highest decorated unit of that conflict and includes all four Victoria crosses which were awarded to the Australian Defence Force in the Vietnam War. The Training Team Vietnam and the Training Team Iraq—I am very proud to say that I went to Iraq with the Training Team Iraq—have essentially formed a collegiate association, so their history lives on. Indeed, the Training Team Vietnam’s legacy has lived on in Iraq. When I was there, the Training Team Iraq named its two bases after people who served in Vietnam, one after the first commanding officer of the Training Team Vietnam, the other, Camp Blackhurst, after one of its members who was killed in action in Vietnam.
There is a shame attached to Vietnam, though. That is the shame of the way that the veterans were treated for many years after their return. Criticism can be levelled broadly across the community for this, certainly for the way that the soldiers were treated. They did their duty. The politicians sent them there—it was a decision made in parliaments—but the soldiers, the sailors and the airmen, the ones who bore the brunt, were labelled baby killers and made to feel guilty. As much as I would like to criticise the left, who certainly were part of that, I acknowledge that other elements of the community did not welcome Vietnam veterans back as well as they should have—including, at that stage, some elements of the RSL who should have been more accommodating.
I think that we have learnt much as a society and as a community. I would like to acknowledge the pain that has been suffered by the Vietnam veterans and the lessons that have been learnt by us as the Australian community. The veterans of Iraq, which was another unpopular war, have all been treated exceptionally well by the community. We as Australians have learnt to separate an unpopular political decision and an unpopular war from those who fight in it.