To honour the lost, returned
EMERALD RSL president Noel Mallyon was in Vietnam during the war as he served with the Australian Navy on a nine-month deployment in 1967.
Today, he still wonders about the fate of the young Australians who he helped ferry in and out of the embattled country.
Attached with the navy's Vietnam Logistics Support crew, one of Mr Mallyon's roles was to transport the troops into Vietnam and pick up returning soldiers to be brought back home.
"We also collected equipment and had clearance divers and the helicopter team, and the navy supplied gunfire support off the coast of Vietnam to do bombard- ment,” he said this week.
"I can look back now and it makes me think of all the hundreds of men that we took in there. It makes you wonder how many of them came home unscathed and how many of them actually did come home.
"I often think about how many of the poor beggars did survive.”
Mr Mallyon, who joined the navy in 1966, said Vietnam Veterans Day was important because of the "horrific” loss of young Australians during the war and also to honour those who returned physically and mentally injured.
"And we still see that to this day. A lot of men came home and took their own lives because there was not a great deal of support. When you look back and see the loss of life it is pretty sad.”
He always tries to find a glimpse of the positives from the devastating negatives, and said that one of the positives created in the years after the Vietnam War is that men and women now returning from combat zones come back to better conditions and plenty of support.
"People used to be just dropped back into normal life. For those who had been conscripted, the day their two years was up they were returned back to their job, but 48 hours earlier they were in a combat zone.
"There was no counselling or support. A week after the fighting they were expected to start their life over again, and it must have been a tough call.
"It affected people and emotionally it must have been horrific, just trying to move themselves back into where they left off.”
"It destroyed a lot of marriages and relationships.”
Mr Mallyon said that it was important to be sympathetic towards returning service men and women. "No one can read your mind as to what you've been through, but acceptance is a big thing.
"I was lucky - we didn't cop the brutality that the frontline soldiers did so we were lucky in that aspect.
"I had friends and relat- ions who went over and I certainly had some deep and meaningful conversations with them, and it was a pretty hard thing,” he said.
"The Aussie diggers with their courage were no different to the original Anzacs in my opinion.”
Mr Mallyon said that when he collected the soldiers to come home a lot of them would put on a "brave face”.
"When they were first going over, I think a lot of them were quite excited. It was a bit of an unknown adventure but they weren't fully aware of what was ahead of them.
"And then when they got back home, they were just put back into society to get on with life.”
He said Vietnam Veterans Day was significant as we "remember the debt that can never be repaid”.
"They went and did what was asked of them by their country and I think everyone - whether young or old - has all got to remember the sacrifices that were being made and still are being made.
"We can't ever let that go. It's got to be kept alive.”