Australia and the Vietnam War

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Commemoration

Overview

The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial, Anzac Parade, Canberra. The memorial was dedicated on 3 October, 1992. [National Library of Australia pic-an23818021]

The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial, Anzac Parade, Canberra. The memorial was dedicated on 3 October, 1992. [National Library of Australia pic-an23818021]

For Vietnam veterans public commemoration can take several forms. Communities around the country have erected plaques or monuments commemorating the dead from the local district or the state. In many cases veterans, impatient at what they regard as slowness by the government or the RSL, were the driving force behind the establishment of monuments in various locales, such as Tamworth and Newcastle in New South Wales. In other places Vietnam was added to existing memorials, giving veterans a sense that the conflict in which they fought was part of a continuing tradition. In many cases Vietnam, along with Korea, Malaya, Confrontation and the Second World War, has been added to First World War Memorials.

Vietnam memorials typically list the names of those killed from a particular district or state. They are predominantly monuments to the dead as well as sites at which veterans can commemorate their own service. While such memorials and monuments serve as commemorative sites for Vietnam veterans in particular places, a national memorial to the Vietnam war also exists. Unveiled in 1992, the construction of the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra, followed another significant milestone in Australian commemorations of the Vietnam War, the welcome home march of 1987.

'Welcoming them home'

  • The Vietnam Veterans’ Welcome Home March through Sydney on 4 October 1987 drew thousands of well-wishers into the city streets. After the march Little Pattie, Normie Rowe and Col Joye performed at a concert in the Domain. [AWM PAIU1987/227/07]
  • The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra, was dedicated on 3 October 1992. [AWM PAIU1992/269/10)
  • Veterans march down Anzac Parade to the new memorial. 3 October 1992. [AWM PAIU1992/269.10
  • The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra. [DVA]
  • A commemorative beer can released for the dedication of the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra. The can features an Australian digger with the words: From Anzac Cove to Nui Dat, our fighting men and women upheld the Australian tradition of larrikinism. [AWM REL31321]

The idea of such a march, like so much to do with Australia’s experience of Vietnam, originated in the United States where similar events had taken place in 1986. Australian veterans hoped to emulate the American welcome home parades in Australia, but here the march would take place in only one city, Sydney. On 3 October 1987 thousands of veterans and their families converged on Australia’s largest city. Some 25,000 people who had served in Vietnam participated in the march, at the front were the next-of-kin of those who had not returned, each carrying an Australian flag representing the dead. Estimates were that several hundred thousand people lined the streets to watch the march. Fifteen Anzac days had passed since the end of Australia’s war in Vietnam, but for many veterans this Spring day was the first time they had marched.

As a commemorative event the march was an enormous success. Veterans, particularly those who had felt shunned on their return, began to feel a sense of acceptance that had previously been lacking. But there was more to be done. Veterans now wanted a national memorial in the nation’s capital, on Anzac Parade where a series of memorials commemorate earlier wars.

The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra. [DVA]

The government made a financial contribution to the construction of such a memorial, and the balance was collected through the fundraising efforts of Vietnam veterans. When a site was selected a small wooden cross was erected, it stood there for almost four years before construction started and in the absence of the yet to be built memorial, people began to visit the ground on which it would stand.

When it was unveiled, five years to the day after the welcome home march, about 15,000 veterans marched past, another 15,000 people watched. One, who had served in Vietnam, commented that the march ‘was for those who came home. This weekend [the memorial’s dedication] is for those who didn’t.’