Hundreds honour Vietnam War veterans

Veterans come together to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day.
Veterans come together to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day.
Veterans remember their mates.

Veterans remember their mates.

Hundreds assembled to honour Australia's Vietnam War veterans at a commemorative and wreath laying service at Martin Place in Sydney this morning.

Vietnam Veterans Day, originally known as Long Tan Day, honours almost 60,000 Australians who served in the war over 13 years.

This year holds a special significance, as it marks 50 years since the first Australian troops arrived in Vietnam for the war that killed 521 Australians and wounded over 3,000.

Those gathered around the Sydney Cenotaph for today's 11am ceremony included current and former servicemen, as well as Premier Barry O'Farrell and New South Wales Governor Marie Bashir.

NSW Vietnam Veterans Association vice president Len Schulz, who chaired the service, touched down in Vietnam in 1970 as a 22-year-old, leaving behind a wife and baby daughter.

He remembers the "bloody horrible" reception they received at home upon their return.

"I remember marching down this very spot and the abuse that was hurled at us and the objects that were thrown, I just couldn't believe," Mr Schulz said.

He and some of his fellow soldiers were called "baby killers and murderers" and a few had red paint thrown at them.

"I broke down, to be honest," he said. "I was crying like a little baby and a lot of other blokes were crying with me."

He said to be recognised as part of today's commemoration "means a hell of a lot."

August 18 was the date of the 1966 Battle of Long Tan, which saw an 108-man Australian battalion clash with more than 2,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The Australians prevailed, at the cost of 18 Australian lives.

It was the largest loss of life in one operation since Australia's involvement began and is often seen as the defining moment of Australia's involvement in the war.

Allen Evans was at Long Tan as part of a support company when he was 33-years-old.

He also served in Korea and Malaya and thought joining the army would be an adventure.

"I'd never heard of these places," he said. "Then you get over there and you think, 'What the hell am I doing?"'

He said it was important that the horrors of the Vietnam War were remembered.

"We just hope that it never happens again," he said.

The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, known as "the team", was the first Australian military unit in Vietnam. Ray Oliver was in the fifth group deployed by "the team" and set foot on Vietnamese soil in 1967 as a 32-year-old warrant officer and father-of-three.

For him, Vietnam Veterans' Day presents an opportunity to remember the Australian soldiers, as well as the South Vietnamese forces they helped train and fought beside.

"It brings back the camaraderie we had," he said. "It's not to glorify war but to glorify the comradeship and the people that we lost who didn't come home."

This story Hundreds honour Vietnam War veterans first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.