IT was a poignant scene at Orange cenotaph yesterday morning as Calare Public School students told the Vietnam veterans how much their sacrifice in going off to war meant to them and their nation.
Noah Lamrock led the tribute with an overview of Australia’s initial involvement and the toll the Vietnam War took on Australia’s 500 soldiers killed in the war, their family and friends and the remaining 50,000 who returned to a mostly hostile reception in Australia.
For Noah’s classmate Michael Thompson, it was a more personal experience as he spoke of his grandfather Jim Mallice who, as a member of the 8th Field Ambulance, experienced the trauma of picking up young Australian soldiers and taking them to the nearest field hospital, many with horrific injuries.
Some of the veterans were clearly moved. At the end of the ceremony they walked over to the boys, shook them by the hand and thanked them for their contribution.
Vietnam Veterans Association Orange branch president Lindsay Wright told the Central Western Daily the response in the number of people turning up to mark the day was in complete contrast to the initial years following the war.
“Today was truly magnificent with more than 200 people here,” he said.
Member for Orange Andrew Gee said after connecting with several Vietnam veterans in the last year it was clear many emotional scars remained.
“While today is about reconciliation we need to realise there is still a great deal of anger and heartache about the way our Vietnam veterans were first treated when they returned to Australia,” he said.
“There is still so much hurt and pain.
“But to all of you men and women in the services who participated in the Vietnam War our community is grateful and proud of the way you served.”
Mr Wright said many veterans found it difficult to deal with the practice towards the end of the Vietnam War of bringing troops into Australia under cover of darkness, dressing them in civilian clothes and denying them public recognition for their commitment and sacrifice.
Mr Gee also spoke of Private Tim Cutcliffe who was the only Orange resident killed in the conflict after he stepped on a landmine.
Archdeacon Frank Hetherington offered prayers and a minute’s silence in memory of those who served.
Calare Public School choir, piper Don Peck and bugler Derek Johns added to the solemnity of the ceremony while Kinross Wolaroi School cadets provided the catafalque party.