Guest Post: Bob Whitaker – Reflections on the Fall

Saigon fell on 30th April 1975.

At that time, five years after returning from Vietnam, I was teaching at the Xavier Hospital School, in Coorparoo, on Brisbane’s South side. My class was composed of children with severe conditions (such as Asthma and Cystic Fibrosis) requiring hospitalisation. These days, they’d be outpatients.

For me, 1975 was significant for other reasons, as it was the year in which I met my wife. We were married two years later.

1975 also marked the dismissal of the Whitlam government, an event which generated so much bitterness at the time. This was brewing, and political commentary and reports from Vietnam were competing in the news cycle.

Xavier Hospital School was across the river from my home at Chermside on the other side of town, so I spent an hour each way daily negotiating traffic. Three afternoons each week I didn’t go home after my day’s work at school. Instead I’d drive out to St Lucia at 3.30pm to attend night lectures and tutorials at University of Queensland. I often fell asleep during the 9pm – 10pm stretch.

One of the benefits I’d picked up post Vietnam was a rehabilitation scholarship which granted me one year’s full time study. It got me started, and now I was plugging away finishing two degrees part-time. I was very busy and focused, but the capitulation knocked me off track for a while.

I spent hours in my car daily, and my strongest memory of that time is of listening to the news broadcasts of the deteriorating military situation on my car radio. I remember being late for a four o’clock tutorial because I sat in the car listening to the news as the Communists advanced on Saigon.

I’d buy the Courier-Mail at the refectory and read the accounts in detail between lectures. I never discussed it with my classmates, despite the fact that one of the subjects I was studying at the time was South-East Asian History. It didn’t pay to let on that you were a Vietnam Veteran on university campuses in the seventies.

The fall of Saigon didn’t cause much of a ripple on campus. The prevailing response was cold indifference. My country had officially been at peace when I was conscripted. It was still officially at peace. What had changed?

After Uni I’d be home, usually by ten, and would devour the news reports before going to bed. I remember finding sleep difficult for a week or two after the event. One image of a helicopter rescuing people from a rooftop in Saigon was burned into my brain.

The news of the fall left a feeling of profound emptiness. It didn’t provide what the current psychobabble calls “closure”. It did the opposite, opening old wounds. Years after Vietnam, my wife and I lost a child through stillbirth. Looking back at it now, the fall of Saigon for me was the same kind of experience.

Something precious was lost, gone forever — but what was lost was an idea, a hope, an aspiration. How do you mourn a loss so ephemeral?

For me, there was no surprise in the news of the capitulation. I knew after my first month in country that we weren’t winning the only war that mattered, the battle for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese.

In my unit, the prevailing attitude to the Vietnamese – whom we called “Noggies” – was hostility. Some Nashos, who didn’t want to be there, blamed the Vietnamese for their plight. Some Regs, who believed strongly in the cause, detested the Vietnamese because they didn’t share their visceral hatred of Communism. For most of us, hostility was driven by fear. Friend and enemy looked the same, so it was safer to consider all Vietnamese the enemy.

By the time I arrived in the country in 1970, what Regs and Nashos had in common was a loathing of the people we had been sent to defend. This attitude was hardly conducive to winning the confidence of the local population. By the end of my tour, the decision had been made in Australia to begin a staged withdrawal, so the Vietnamese who rejected the Viet Cong may have also felt a sense of betrayal.

Our feeling of futility was reinforced when my unit took casualties, especially to land mines. The anger and frustration felt when someone was killed or maimed by a mine was numbing. With mines there was no opportunity, in the heat of the moment, to fight back. Our knowledge that the cause was most likely already lost added this sense of futility to anger and frustration.

Even if we had come to the situation united in the cause of fighting Communism, what we saw when we arrived in Vietnam swiftly poisoned any belief in the nobility of our enterprise.

I remember travelling with my platoon on a truck between Vung Tau and Nui Dat We, returning from R & C, a three day break by the beach. I witnessed a Vietnamese child of about six or seven being hit in the eye by a rock-hard fruit thrown by one of my comrades. The children would run after us chasing cigarettes and sweets, which we would throw from the trucks.

He fell down screaming with blood pouring from what was obviously a very badly injured eye. The response from some of my comrades was derision. I remember thinking that there would be at least one Vietnamese family that would hate us from that day forward.

At the time I remember asking myself why decent men (and I knew they were decent men – I’d been living and fighting with them for months) would react in this way. I remember thinking that most were horrified, but none, including myself, felt free to show it. The mask of cynicism had descended on all of us.

Instinctively, we knew that keeping a cynical distance from the suffering was the only way to retain sanity — even if what we were doing was contributing to that suffering. We would remain sane in this asylum by remaining detached, by not allowing ourselves to feel either empathy or sympathy.

Despite this prevailing attitude, and probably as a result of strong leadership and good discipline, we nevertheless treated the Vietnamese with more civility than the Americans did. The Vietnamese troops – the ARVN – were worse. They stole, looted and raped when the opportunity presented itself. The level of corruption we observed, at every level, made it absolutely clear that the prevailing administration was irrevocably broken and we were shoring up a rotting edifice.

Echoes of our better treatment of the Vietnamese linger when you travel back to the country now. Respect for Australians is acknowledged and real. The same respect for the GI is simply not evident in those that remember the war. Most don’t remember, of course, given the demographic in twenty-first century Vietnam. Most Vietnamese living today were born after what they call the “American War”.

For the duration of my tour, I lived a close quarter observation of the loss of a dream — the dream of fighting and dying for a noble cause. I was not one of the dreamers. This made the situation easier for me. I never held the conceit that we were fighting a just cause. Many of my comrades left Australia believing they were, and the outcome for them was bitterness.

My rancour was there, but it was different. It was directed inward, in that I compromised my personal beliefs and values by rolling over and going along with my call-up. I made an easy rationalisation. I decided that it was better to take my chances in the army than in the magistrate’s court. I had coldly calculated the odds. At this time, most infantry battalions were losing between twenty and thirty diggers each tour. I could manage those odds.

The fact that I ended up in a rifle section was ironically not part of that calculation, coming as it did after I’d made the initial decision not to resist call-up, and after I’d been through recruit and corps training. I won the wager and survived. During the course of the conflict, five hundred Australians lost this bet.

Strangely, perhaps, although I was a very unwilling soldier, I took pride in my soldiering. I did my level best to do my job as well as I could.

Returning to Vietnam was my antidote for this avalanche of self-doubt. In my journeys back, I saw a people hell-bent on prosperity in a country that has shrugged off the spirit, if not the letter, of Marxism. These people give lip-service to a system of government which doesn’t figure large in community life.

Visiting Hanoi in 2007, I watched a display of Vietnamese puppetry. It’s highly stylised form provided a metaphor for the Communism that prevails since Doi Moi. It’s all about form — about how things look or seem. Whatever substance exists is well and truly lost on the western observer. To grow rich is indeed glorious in Vietnam today.

Back in 1970, with the blackest of humour, we called Vietnam the “funny country”. Returning since, and seeing the country as it is now, I am encouraged to hope.

Pragmatism has trumped ideology. The Vietnamese have survived the war and have got on with life. Many Australian Vietnam veterans haven’t been as successful.

Often during the last forty years I’ve wondered if our contribution made any difference at all. Perhaps we delayed the inevitable, and in that process gave South East Asia a breathing space. Perhaps we made the inevitable worse, in the sense that we gave some Vietnamese time and security to back the losing side, which for them made the outcome more dangerous and left no option but to escape on an armada of small boats.

None of this second guessing of history makes any difference. The fact remains that these days Vietnam as a country is doing well, the standard of living is improving, and the nation is secure. Today, most Vietnamese have no memory of war. When I was there in 1970, most Vietnamese had no experience of peace.

Nevertheless, the fall of Saigon left me desperately searching for the meaning of the conflict, and beyond that, the meaning of my part in it.

Nashos and Regs wore the same uniform, but we didn’t share a common belief or understanding of the war. I doubt much of this has changed in the nearly forty years since.

Despite this, as Regs and Nashos we shared some strongly held values.

We knew that we were good soldiers, that we looked after each other and we generally respected our unit leadership. Accounts I’ve read, and behaviour I observed in American units back then, made it clear to me that this self-belief was not universal. Between 1970 and 1971, there were 363 cases of “assault with explosive devices” against officers in Vietnam. This became so common that it generated its own jargon. It was called “fragging”. The Americans were destroying themselves.

So, despite our attitudes to the war being poles apart, we had in common a respect and pride in each other as soldiers and men. Those who have survived still maintain this respect. We were united in our loyalty to unit and corps. We wore the skippy badge with pride.

On the whole, life has moved on for the Vietnamese. If sorrow can be measured in bald numerical terms, they have much more to regret than we do. Their war memorials are similar to those found in every town and city in Australia save in one important aspect — their sheer size. Let the memorials in both countries mark our common and enduring sorrow for what has been lost.

The Vietnamese seem to have succeeded in leaving this sorrow and regret behind.

That should also be the case here, but for many veterans of Vietnam, moving on has been difficult.
Maybe, like the Vietnamese, we should let the tide of history erode the anger and bitterness that was an enduring product of this war; leaving the pride and respect we hold for each other and for our country standing stark and clear.

For me, reconciliation is what makes sense of it all. For many of us who lived through those tumultuous events, reconciling with our old enemy is probably less complicated than making peace with each other.

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59 Responses to Guest Post: Bob Whitaker – Reflections on the Fall

  1. Blogstrop

    Vietnam is always held up as a failure of conventional force over asymmetric warfare, but things might have turned out differently without Chinese support for the North, without the distraction of Paris Peace Talks, some different tactics – and even some former northerners say they were at breaking point due to the bombing of Hanoi when it stopped, and so on. The most important lesson of Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, is not to go into any war with too many PC rules, and go in it to win decisively.
    As for the current prosperity and downplaying of communism – once again the answer is that (a) the Chinese have relaxed on that front, and (b) the Vietnamese are a very practical people, so their hearts were probably never into communism anyway. They were and remain proud of their independece, and would have fought for that.
    The march of communism was ridiculed by the left as part of the undermining of morale here and evrerywhere in the west. The “reds under the bed” and Domino Theory were part of the ABC current affairs comedy routine then, just as undermining anything that they deem culturally infra dig is now. They are more likely to dwell on that one instance of bad behaviour you relate than the overall decency of your military brethren.

  2. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    War is hell.

    I will be in Vietnam next week, Bob, and will remember your thoughts as I pay my respects.

    Vale, on Anzac Day, to all who did not return from all conflicts in which this country has engaged.

    All strength and power to our armed forces whenever and wherever they are needed in our name. May we guide them well on where they go, and why.

  3. WhaleHunt Fun

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  4. Roger

    It is interesting that Vietnam is etched in our National conscience as error or a war we should not have been involved in. But I think that is wrong. The rise of communism post WW2 in SE Asia basically arose to fill the vaccum of old colonial powers who were slow to re-establish themselves. Britain moved fastest but only just in time to nullify the uprising in Malaya and Singapore (even then it took many years.
    Ask the Malaysians, the Thais and the Singaporeans what they thought of the US/Australians intervention in Vietnam. They didn’t see it as an error. They remain thankful today.

  5. Empire Strikes Back

    Thank you for sharing this with us Bob.

    When I travelled there 15 years ago, I was surprised by the warmth shown to Australians by the Vietnamese and the contrasting attitude towards Americans. When I quizzed the older folks about this they explained that the underlying sentiment was that all the wars (against China, France & US) were about independence, not ideology. As one elderly gentleman put it “Ho was a sideshow”. He believed Australians valued independence above ideology.

    Whatever the merits of Australia’s involvement in the conflict, your service is valued by all good people.

  6. Alfonso

    25 April is the one day of the year Their ABC has to watch their cultural sneering carefully. It has great meaning to a big majority and disrespect can effortlessly create cheering for defunding revenge, I believe.

  7. Ronaldo

    Bob, you have written a first class post. I am sure that all Catallaxy readers, even the trolls, will appreciate it. Thank you.

  8. Old woman of the north

    Thanks Bob. I used to watch the media’s behaviour, and that of our so-called intelligent university students towards the Viet Vets and was appalled. No soldier was at fault – they were just doing what the government had sent them to do. Whitlam and Labor’s support for the Left meant the soldiers were treated abominably. My apologies are way too late but they are needed.

    Viet Vets were as damaged by their treatment as they were by their service.

  9. Helen Armstrong

    Thanks Bob, I too, have been surprised at the graciousness of the ABC this morning, even commented to Captain – it is almost as thought the ABC have given themselves permission to respect and revere the day.

    Your post is a reminder that in remembering the fallen, we should also remember the living.

  10. Ellen of Tasmania

    Thanks, Bob. Every war is a personal struggle as well as a national one.

    God give us wisdom and courage in a troubled world.

  11. manalive

    It is interesting that Vietnam is etched in our National conscience as error or a war we should not have been involved in …

    Unfortunately, at the time, the contentions of whether Australia should have been involved and conscription were conflated and still are.

  12. OldOzzie


    thank you for an excellent post.

    I “Won” the First Ballot for Vietnam on 10 March 1965, but I was lucky that I had an option, in that I had been a member of the CMF (Army Reserve) for over a year on the Ballot Date, and could choose to either do the 24 months Conscription or 6 years in the Army Reserve.

    As I was about to finish Uni, wanted to earn some money and had started going out with my wife, I took the 6 year option.

    A lot of my mates were conscripted and went to Vietnam, and thankfully all returned, most got back on with their lives, 2 had trouble adjusting, but with the help of their girlfriends, subsequently their wives, settled back into to normal life.

    I got some insight (but nothing like the reality you faced) into Vietnam, from our trainers, who had been part of the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam 1964-65, especially Warrant Officer Class One Wally Thompson, OAM (who went on to do 3 tours of Vietnam), who instilled both reality and the harshness of Vietnam, especially during our jungle training course at Canungra.

    And re your comment “It didn’t pay to let on that you were a Vietnam Veteran on university campuses in the seventies”, I would extend that to the late sixtes, and when marching on Anzac Day parades, or any general Army celebration parade.

    To you and all the other Australians who did go to Vietnam – Thank you

  13. Sirocco

    Thanks Bob for a fine post.

    For me the most poignant line was “Something precious was lost, gone forever — but what was lost was an idea, a hope, an aspiration. How do you mourn a loss so ephemeral?” a line which still resonates today.

  14. Will

    Unfortunately, at the time, the contentions of whether Australia should have been involved and conscription were conflated and still are.

    Most sensibly as conscription was used to provide the manpower to prosecute the war. Excluding Officers and NCO’s, almost all OR’s in Vietnam were conscripts.

  15. blogstrop

    I think only about 40% of Australian forces in Vietnam were conscripts, Will.

  16. one old bruce

    How was Vietnam different from any other foreign war in which Australians fought?

  17. Token

    Thank you Bob.

    …they explained that the underlying sentiment was that all the wars (against China, France & US) were about independence, not ideology. As one elderly gentleman put it “Ho was a sideshow”. He believed Australians valued independence above ideology.

    It is critical to understand that for the Vietnamese it was a war for independence. Somehow the US allowed the French back in after WWII and did not understand the difference between the underlying ethos of the North Vietnamese was materially different to that of North Korea & tragically applied the same approach.

  18. Des Deskperson

    ‘in a country that has shrugged off the spirit, if not the letter, of Marxism. These people give lip-service to a system of government which doesn’t figure large in community life’

    Not quite. My impression of the Communist Party in Vietnam is that it’s role and power is similar to the tales one used to hear (which may or may not have been apocryhphal) about the Masons running country towns in Australia: you can ignore it but if you want to get anywhere or get anything done, you have to deal with it in one way or another. The attitude toward the party among educated Vietnamese seems to equivocate between contempt for those who join up just to get on and admiration for individual Communist officials or organisation – the Peoples Committee of Da Nang (aka City Council) is one – that are efficient, pragmatic, clean and get things done.

  19. Jarrah

    “When I quizzed the older folks about this they explained that the underlying sentiment was that all the wars (against China, France & US) were about independence, not ideology. As one elderly gentleman put it “Ho was a sideshow”.”

    Well said.

  20. lotocoti

    It is critical to understand that for the Vietnamese it was a war for independence.

    Those who fled south to escape the land reform programme may have had a slightly more nuanced understanding.

  21. John A

    What a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. Thank you, Bob.

    I was one month away from the ballot when the Whitlam government was elected in December 1972, so I was relieved to see conscription halted.

    Fortunately I had been raised fairly conservative (unbeknownst to me at the time, of course) and had already avoided the student anti-war stuff on campus, so I was not infected by the blind rage and the shameful attitudes expressed to the returning soldiers such as yourself.

    I am struck by the contrast between the sense of futility you express about the Vietnam conflict, and the hallowed view the community holds of the Gallipoli campaign.

    Both were disastrous defeats, and yet we are still struggling to come to terms with the Vietnam war.

    Could it be that Gallipoli was followed by further action and an eventual victory, which softened the blow, whereas the “defeat” and withdrawal from Vietnam was all there was to show for nearly 20 years fighting in the region?

  22. C.L.

    We should never forget that the left in Australia wanted loss in Vietnam and supported the communists.

    We should also never forget that Gough Whitlam was a Killing Fields denialist.

  23. manalive

    …. conscription was used to provide the manpower to prosecute the war …

    It was but the conscription ballot was introduced to boost the defence forces if needed to get involved in the Malaysian / Indonesian ‘Confrontation’ ( the Indonesian communist party seen as the immediate threat).

  24. Token

    The Vietnamese seem to have succeeded in leaving this sorrow and regret behind.

    Let’s hope that the other vets who post to this forum can do so with similar noble spirits.

    It is refreshing to read an article where the writer discusses the causes of their grief and anxieties, while not being held back by tribal hatred learned at a parents knee.

  25. .

    Well done Sir.

    I hope you are making a day of it and some of the vets start to feel better about themselves.

  26. .

    Who is glorifying war, marion?

  27. stackja

    Perhaps we delayed the inevitable, and in that process gave South East Asia a breathing space.

    First Malaya then Vietnam did give the rest of South East Asia a breathing space. Lest We Forget.

  28. Gab

    I doubt grey alan marion will know the answer, dot.

  29. candy

    I thought “I was only 19” was about very young men off to war, any war, and recognition of lost or damaged young lives in service to their country.
    That’s how I like to think of it, anyway, not as an anti-war song.

  30. Alfonso

    The left hates that Gallipoli was a defeat ….it therefore doesn’t fit their glorification narrative.

  31. Tom

    “Marion” confirms he/she is smug, arrogant leftwing smartarse who thinks it has invented the idea of making an arsehole of itself on a blog you dislike. Trolls like you are a dime a dozen and soon you will return to the wilderness of discredited nation-wreckers as adults return to govern this country.

  32. Leigh Lowe

    G’day Bob.
    Nice work, which prompts me to observe ceasefire for the day.
    Hostilities resume O’Dark Early tomorrow …… see you then.

  33. jumpnmcar

    Please spare a thought also for the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corp (RAANC)
    Their experiences changed them in a profound way.
    Their contribution was immense.
    They pay the price still.

  34. C.L.

    Listening to the ABC this morning, I heard them play that great anti war song, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’…

    That’s the one with the most hilarious lyrical cock-up in popular balladry.

    Mankind kicked the moon in July, not June.

  35. Huckleberry Chunkwot Minion & Executioner VRWC. BDS.

    Appreciate the post Bob.
    Sorry to be a bit pernickety though, why didn’t you post under your normal “numbers” moniker? I seem to remember you getting most upset when people refer to you as Bob, so I am a touch confused.

  36. Tom

    That’s not a bad piece of writing — for a teacher. Funny how things turn out, ey Bob? You resented being conscripted to fight a war against communist nationalists in Vietnam; 40 years later, you’re fighting for a rabble of communist sympathisers attempting to impose a totalitarian regime on Australia.

  37. Sinclair Davidson

    I wrote the headline.

  38. jumpnmcar

    And the spite begins.
    Are ANZAC days getting shorter or can’t people “express themselves” on any number of other posts?

    [Indeed. You’ll all notice that a number of comments have been deleted. Sinc]

  39. Gab

    Hopefully Spud has finally purged himself with this post

    Nah. It’s not like the first time he’s posted his account, just the first time here. Mind you the version here has some historical videos not included in the post above but add to the context.

    Numbers has also recounted his story on radio here and here.

    For more of his account of his ten months in Vietnam, he has also written the book Jellybeans in the Jungle.

    Conscription should never have happened.

  40. Cold-Hands

    Thank You for your service Bob.

  41. Huckleberry Chunkwot Minion & Executioner VRWC. BDS.

    I don’t know what followed after my previous post, but from what is remaining it appears that there has been a bit if aggro.
    If my post was the catalyst for this, I apologise.
    I was asking a genuine question and in no way did I wish to cause a bit of numbers bashing today of all days.

  42. Huckleberry Chunkwot Minion & Executioner VRWC. BDS.

    bit if of aggro

  43. JamesK

    I don’t subscribe to Bob’s take on Vietnam or pretty much anything else he voices an opinion on.

    Given the above comments I guess I’m unique but I think this is Bob’s latest dishonest effort to reconcile with his comrades (and perhaps with his own guilt).

    This is a particularly illuminating comment: s

    o the Vietnamese who rejected the Viet Cong may have also felt a sense of betrayal


    As they cry in the classics: “No shit Sherlock?”

    Johnson and later Democrats in Congress tearing Nixon to shreds for domestic political gain are the real perpetrators of evil with respect to this conflict.

  44. Des Deskperson

    A marginal note on Vietnam’s growing prosperity: in Da Nang last month, I saw a bunch of recreational cyclists. There are lots of cyclists in Vietnam (though less than there used to be) who have to cycle for work or commerce, but this was a bunch of lycra-clad Ongs and Bas with posh cycles having coffee on the Han Song promenade, it was like being back in Braddon, ACT!!

    People exercising because they want to rather than because they have to seem to me a sure sign of a growing middle class.

  45. DrBeauGan

    That was a great post numbers and I hope it makes your position clearer to the cats.
    One of our finest and defining traditions is that we can argue passionately and stay friends, that we can agree on ends and vigorously debate means. I disagree with you completely on how to make a society that treats people decently, while wanting such a society as much as you obviously do.
    Thank you for your service, in Vietnam and afterwards.

  46. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    when war is so outrageously glorified.

    Marion, I said upront – ‘war is hell’

    No-one sensible glorifies it. The results on all involved are often horrific, it can bring out the worst as well as the best in human nature, it is destructive of lives and property, and if it can be avoided, that is all to the good.

    But – and this is a big proviso – it is sometimes necessary.

    So we will remember them, all of them, and thank them.

    Go bag your head.

  47. Tal

    Marion,stop it now,got a problem with Elizabeth take it to the Open Forum

  48. FDB

    I don’t subscribe to Bob’s take on Vietnam or pretty much anything else he voices an opinion on.

    Given the above comments I guess I’m unique but I think this is Bob’s latest dishonest effort to reconcile with his comrades (and perhaps with his own guilt).

    Not unique at all.

    I’ve met heaps of dickheads.

  49. Infidel Tiger

    Thank you, Mr Whitaker.

    Much appreciated.

  50. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Apologies, Marion, for my last line. Tal is right. Wrong thread for personal comments.

    I stand by everything else I have said though.

  51. 1975 also marked the dismissal of the Whitlam government, an event which generated so much bitterness at the time.

    Well, in the aftermath of the dismissal there wasn’t sufficient bitterness for Whitlam to attract any, you know, actual votes.

  52. nilk, Iron Bogan

    Bob, first God bless you and I thank you for your service. I can’t remember if I’ve said if before, but even if I have, today is always a good day to say so.

    Regarding your post, I’ve not read your story before, and it reads to me as if you are slowly working your own way to the closure you were denied.

    My dad was Regs, and went to Vietnam early and rarely discussed it. Never when we were kids. My view of the war tends to be coloured by that, but I remember when he was first able to march down Swanston Street on Anzac Day – was there at the Shrine to hug him.

    To my mind, it is a war that was undermined by the very people who should have supported it; those in the media pushing the communist lines, those in the universities who so denigrated our soldiers and our participation that even you who went unwillingly felt you had to hide.

    I’d be pissed off, too.

    It happened again in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan. Once again, our soldiers, airmen and sailors (of whatever chromosomal designation) do not get the support they need from back home; particularly those in authority.

    Perhaps one day that will change, although I suspect that might depend upon our getting someone with a spine a bit tougher than cooked spaghetti and a hide thicker than a rhino.

    For our other Cats who serve and have served, God bless and thank you too. 🙂

  53. Gab


    Most of the South Vietnamese people are always grateful to the Vietnam War veterans from America and other allied countries who were fighting for the freedom and democracy of the Republic of Vietnam.

    We would like to express our most respectful thanks to all Vietnam War veterans from the USA, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, for your priceless contributions to the noble cause of our country and the better lives of our compatriots. Despite all controversies, the U.S governments were right in their principal objective of sending brave soldiers to Vietnam – to protect South Vietnam from the Communist aggressors – although they might have been wrong in how to conduct the war.

    Without your heroic assistance, we might have lost the last part of our Fatherland years before April 30, 1975.

    Dr Tien Nguyen fought for the South Vietnamese army, serving as a medic. He was captured after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and sent to a hard labour camp for two years. He and his wife escaped by boat to Malaysia, and were accepted into Australia as refugees in 1980.

    “You have to develop an illusion that anybody can die except you. You survive thanks to that. Because if you’re scared and think of death all the time you won’t be able to function,” says Dr Nguyen.

    Dr Nguyen says he cannot explain why he survived when so many of his friends and colleagues perished, and expresses his gratitude by continuing to support his community today. As vice-president of the NSW branch of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, he continues to work to help families of both Vietnamese and Australian veterans.

    He says he and other Vietnam veterans will be forever grateful to Aussie troops who served in Vietnam. A relationship he says is “deeply cherished” by both sides today.

    The VCA/NSW [Vietnamese Community in Australia] cordially invite the media and members of the public to attend this important ceremony to show respect to Australians who lost their lives defending freedom for South Vietnam.

    Apart from this event, the VCA/NSW has co-operated with the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (VVAA) and the ARVN Veterans Association in NSW to organise a campaign to raise funds for families of Australian soldiers who died or became invalid during the VN War.

    Between1962 and 1972, 60,000 Australian soldiers were sent to Vietnam to help defend freedom for South Vietnam, living away from home in the jungles under harsh conditions, weathering heavy enemy fire, which resulted in 521 deaths and thousands were maimed for life.

    Vietnamese Australians do owe those soldiers and their families a great debt that perhaps can never be fully repaid. This fund raising campaign is a token of gratitude and appreciation from us, and hopefully would be of some comfort to families who have suffered great losses when their loved ones were dead or became invalid as a result of going to Vietnam to help South Vietnamese.

    There’s a lot of gratitude from Vietnamese people to all those who went to Vietnam to defend them from communism.

  54. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Gab, I read all of your link with great interest. Certainly, the RVN diaspora is a loss to Vietnam today. Nor should we forget that for the South Vietnamese the fight there was phrased in terms of freedom from communism, not just nationalism, and that the scars of the aftermath of 1975 have run deep both in the home country and amongst the diaspora.

    I will be fascinated to spend some time in that country very soon.

  55. Oh come on

    I’m not sure that Ho Chi Minh was “a sideshow” to ordinary Vietnamese – he himself was very much a nationalist before he was a socialist, so he would have shared a perspective with a large number of Vietnamese people at the time. Uncle Ho spent some years in Moscow at the Communist Leadership Sausage Factory or whatever it’s called – where the Hoxhas, Kims, Castros etc learnt statecraft. I’ve read several accounts of what his Moscow handlers must have considered his (very) ideologically errant stated beliefs and behaviours. I think it likely Ho would have thrown in his lot with the Americans had they have had him – the Viet Minh were coordinating fairly closely with the Americans by the end of WW2. Unfortunately, the Yanks chose to support the perfidious French after the end of the war when they rolled back into Saigon to “reclaim their birthright”, as some pompous French commander said at the time. (I call the French perfidious because the Americans bankrolled the 4th Republic’s hapless counterinsurgency campaign in their Indochinese colony, yet as soon as they were finished off at Dien Bien Phu, they pretty much straight away started working against what had become American interests by siding with their former foes. Way to show your gratitude to the nation that was primarily responsible for ridding your country of Nazis and fascist quislings, as well as indulging your unrealistic colonial fantasies, Frenchies.)

    You can’t exactly blame the Americans for not going with the Viet Minh when you consider what they would have known at the time. In 1945 or even 1950, Ho headed up just one of the many factions duelling for power in Vietnam. Who in the west would have clear-sightedly predicted the events of Saigon?

    Anyway. It is true that the Vietnamese are (often surprisingly) magnanimous towards America and Americans. A visceral hatred of the Chinese, however, is common. As Ho Chi Minh said ‘it is better to eat French dung for 80 years than Chinese dung for 1000 years’.

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