(Photo caption: Australian Ambassador, Hugh Borrowman, lays a wreath on 18 August 2015, Vietnam Veterans’ Day, at the Long Tan Cross.)
Address by Australian Ambassador, H.E. Mr Hugh Borrowman
Long Tan Cross
Vietnam Veterans’ Day 2015
Veterans; families and friends; ladies and gentlemen: welcome.
We gather 53 years since Australian Forces first arrived in Vietnam in the Australia Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV); 49 years to the day since the Battle of Long Tan; and 41 years since the formal cessation of hostilities between Vietnam and Australia in January 1973.
So many numbers…
There have been many other such numbers recently: the centenary events of the Gallipoli August offensive (Lone Pine, the Nek, Hill 971, Chunuk Bair, Hill 60); and the 70th anniversary of VP Day last week, marking the end of the Second World War.
So many numbers…
Numbers much larger than the lifetime of many people I see here today… but numbers, I know, that are belied by the personal experiences of many others here today; and numbers that the presence of all of us here today render unimportant, because the honour we are come to render transcends the passage of time.
Here, today, imbued with the spirit of this iconic location, through our collective act of remembrance of all that happened here, we will remember and honour all those who served in what we call the Vietnam War.
Those anniversaries that I mentioned, almost everywhere else in fact, other than here, will have been commemorated against a backdrop of Commonwealth war graves.
Wandering through the serried ranks of headstones of those beautiful, haunted locations, it is impossible not to be moved to tears by the brief but eloquent expressions of sorrow, or loss.
Sometimes a quote from the bible, or a fragment of poetry; sometimes, just words from a broken heart; sometimes, just, simply, “Known unto God”.
Often, because of the ages of the dead – 18, 19, 20 – again and again, the inscriptions are words from parents; but also from loved ones, from men with their own families.
The youngest soldier to die in Vietnam was 18.
The oldest solder to die in Vietnam was 48.
The absence of such physical reminders as headstones here in Vietnam should not blind us to the realisation that the same heartache, the same loss, the same sorrow, was incurred here too.
The same service was rendered, and the same honour is owed.
This Cross stands in the stead of those headstones, the visual metaphor for all that happened here.
When the AATTV left Vietnam ten years after it had arrived, some 50,000 Australian service personnel had served in Vietnam: 521 had died, and over 3,100 had been wounded. Eighteen of those dead and 25 of those wounded fell here, on this ground. The oldest was 22, the youngest 19.
On the New Zealand side throughout the war some 3,500 served, 37 were killed and 187 wounded.
So many numbers…
Many veterans carry the scars of their service to this day: physical, emotional, mental scars, which have also profoundly affected families, loved ones, relationships, and lives.
Some veterans have never returned to this country. Others visit from time to time. Others have made their lives here. There are no right choices, nor is it for us to judge.
Some veterans are here today and we acknowledge and salute you.
Some ADF members are here today too, and we acknowledge your presence and your service too.
Our focal point today may be Long Tan, but the larger canvass of Vietnam Veterans’ Day is about the whole theatre of Vietnam.
Today we honour that fought, all that served: the Air Force, the Army and the Navy; here at Long Tan, at FSB Balmoral and Coral, at Bien Hoa, Phan Rang, Nui Dat and Vung Tau; the Australians and New Zealanders; the soldiers, the sappers, the sailors, the nurses, the airmen, the cooks, the medics, the nashos, and the regulars: ordinary people called to extraordinary duty who answered the call.
Our meeting here, now, has been foreshadowed by thousands of people earlier today in Australia and New Zealand: at our national shrines of remembrance, at our cenotaphs, at small memorials in small towns, and, I am sure, sometimes in private.
There, in Australia, they will remember and honour surrounded by the scent of gums and wattle, the screeching of the cockatoos and the morning warble of the currawongs; in New Zealand under the clear blue skies, in the wind, under the long white cloud: sights, sounds and smells that our troops had left behind because their country asked them to.
Here, in Vietnam, we remember and honour them, in for us as for them an altogether stranger environment, in the heat, the rain and the red dust and mud in which they fought and died.
Those of you who have been to this site before will realise it looks different from last year, indeed from every year. At a practical level, this reflects that fact that this is privately owned, working land, contributing to the extraordinary economic and social transformation that Vietnam has achieved after decades of war and privation.
But the change in the land and the cross standing proudly in it can also stand as a larger metaphor.
Our honour and remembrance, like the cross, must remain, in a world that, like the land, has changed.
Each generation has to constantly assess and reassess, to confront the issues that our forebears confronted, clothed in contemporary garb, and to grapple with challenges they could not have foreseen – but while doing so, to honour the sacrifices they made that we might have the freedom, and the responsibility, to face our own dilemmas.
In part, this is a task for our leaders, but in reality it is a task for all of us, not just as we commemorate important anniversaries, but every day: to work through our families, our communities, our institutions, our relationships. to strive to maintain a just order where an individual’s rights are respected but their responsibilities are also recognized; where service, when it is called for, is rendered; and when service, when it is rendered, is acknowledged – which we are here to do today.
In closing, let me say that it is not for me to thank you for being here.
Being here today, in this place, at this time, is its own reward and its own privilege.
- AusCham thanks the Australian Ambassador for permission to share his speech on this website.
- For photos of Vietnam Veterans’ Day 2015 at the Long Tan Cross, taken by AusCham, click here.
- Battle of Long Tan – 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner announced for 18 August 2016 in Vung Tau, Vietnam, AusCham Website, 19 August 2015. (“An organizing committee made up of several veterans has been established to hold a Gala Dinner next year on 18 August 2016 in Vung Tau. In attendance will be 40 Vietnamese members and several guests of honor from Australia including Lt Col Harry Smith SG MC (Ret), WO Keith Payne VC (Ret) and Daniel Keighran VC, and members from all branches of the Australian military veterans.”)
- Battle of Long Tan remembered at Vietnam Veterans Day services around Australia, ABC News, 18 August 2015. Article includes comments from Lt Col Harry Smith SG MC (Ret) and WO Keith Payne VC (Ret) who will both attend next year’s Gala Dinner.