On the cold and wet morning of Friday, the 18th of August, residents across the Yass Valley gathered to pay their respects at services in Yass and Canberra to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, with services including an informal wreath-laying ceremony at the Yass Memorial Hall and the Canberra War Memorial Service. The day marked 50 years since the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and 60 years since Australian soldiers first arrived in the conflict. 

 

The Yass Memorial Hall wreath laying was conducted at 10:30 am, followed by a speech and moment of silence to honour Yass’s fallen soldiers. 

 

Many residents from the Yass Valley, including Yass RSL members and Vietnam veterans, attended the National Commemorative Service at the Vietnam Forces National Memorial, hosted by the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs. While figures vary, roughly 2-3 thousand were in attendance, including nine Yass veterans. 

Presented at the ceremony was the Australian flag, provided by Federal Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain. Transport to and from the service was provided for by the Yass Soldiers Club, with the President of the Yass Soldiers Club Ross Webster driving veterans and attending the service. Residents left at 8 am, and attended the service for roughly ninety minutes, where wreaths were laid by family and unit members to honour fallen soldiers, before then joining together for lunch at the Ainslie Football Club. 

 

“We knew this was coming, and it was going to be like the commemorative service we held in Binalong. A few of the Vietnam Veterans find it a bit hard to get around now, so the Yass Soldiers Club provided the vehicle, and we took about nine over”, said Ross. 

 

“It was very moving in a lot of ways, a lot of the blokes there are in wheelchairs — it was a very moving ceremony. It was a very good service in Canberra — Very classy”. 

Transport and logistics was organised by Vietnam Veteran and RSL member, Bruce Marshall. 

 

While many Yass Valley residents and Vietnam veterans attended the Canberra War Memorial service, the Yass ceremony still saw a strong attendance, despite the 8-degree weather coupled with wind and rain. 

 

In attendance included multiple Yass RSL members and Vietnam veterans, with the service headed by Yass RSL Vice President And Vietnam Veteran  Neil Turner, and Managing Director Al Charry. Also in attendance included two representatives from Yass High School Malakai and Grace, as well as appearances from Yass Valley Mayor Allan McGrath and Councillor Adrian Cameron. 

Mayor Allan McGrath described the wreath laying as a respectful and “Very dignified service that acknowledges the service of Vietnam Veterans”.

 

Beginning the speech with an acknowledgement of service and acknowledgement of country, Al Charry spoke about the sacrifices veterans have made, as well as the neglect and poor response of their country. 

 

“The Vietnam War is forever entrenched as a dark chapter in our national history.

What began over 60 years ago in a small SE Asian nation with a commitment of

approximately 30 military advisors, ended up seeing a commitment of over 60 000

servicemen and women over a period of 13 years. We lost 523 people and

experienced over 3000 wounded, many more of those experienced the invisible

wounds that some carry to this day.”

 They then came home to a nation that did not acknowledge them or their service. This sentiment was borne out of the antiwar movement that was expressed by Australian Society and sadly a sentiment that should have been focused on the policy makers and government of the day was directed towards those that volunteered to serve our nation, were conscripted and those that were national servicemen.”

 

“This was indeed a dark chapter in our history as Australia neglected these men and women,

organisations such as the RSL rejected these veterans and for that, we bear that

shame to this day.” 

 

The speech concluded with an apology from RSL to veterans affected, offering support and appreciation for the service that veterans have offered from conflicts throughout history.

Vietnam Veterans Remembered – Wreath at the Yass War Memorial August 18th 2023

  “The RSL NSW President Ray James, himself a Vietnam veteran, has recently issued a formal apology to all Vietnam veterans and their families and in this he acknowledges that the RSL was wrong to act in this way. Today the RSL, especially here in the Yass Valley are extremely supportive and appreciative of all Australians that have currently served or have previously served. We do what we can to achieve our purpose and that is to support veterans within our community and their families.”

 

Al then thanked the support and attendance from members of the community, followed by the laying of two wreaths by Allan McGrath and Neil Turner at the Vietnam mural, both in the Memorial Hall entrance and outside for passersby and Yass residents to see.  

 

The morning was concluded with a morning tea session at the Yass Soldiers Club, where attendees reconvened at the hospitality of Yass RSL. 

 

60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, with more than 3000 wounded and 523 killed, with an estimated 35,000 veterans still remaining. 

 

Griffin Palen.