Jeremy Rockliff

Premier of Tasmania

Vietnam Veterans Day Address

18 August 2016

Hobart Cenotaph

On this day, each year, our nation commemorates Vietnam Veterans Day.

We honour all those who served our nation and who fought for what we believe in, for their extraordinary bravery and sacrifice.

We think also of the families of those who served.  They, themselves traumatised by a constant fear for the safety of their loved ones far away in a field of combat.

We face up to that difficult fact that it was to our country’s shame that we did not appropriately recognise and respect those who served in Vietnam for their brave, selfless service to our country until almost 20 years later. In fact we did worse than that, as the Australian war Memorial records; many soldiers were met with a hostile reception on their return home.

Now 50 years on, we mark an important milestone and we honour every Australian who served in Vietnam.

It is clear, from recent developments in Vietnam regarding the commemoration of the Battle of Long Tan, and Vietnam Veterans Day, that time has not healed all wounds.

50 years has not been sufficient time to fully close a separation that was at its most violent on those battlefields all those years ago. Our effort to do so, must go on.

And our hearts are again with those who served, their families and loved ones, who will be again be feeling a great and understandable sense of disappointment in the land on which thy served.

Today, we think not only of the Battle at Long Tan on 18 August 1966, but the 61 000 Australians who served in Vietnam, particularly the 521 who lost their lives and the 3 000 who were wounded. And many who are still wounded.

16 Tasmanian-born soldiers died in the Vietnam War.

Apart from the suffering inflicted on the families of the 16 Tasmanians killed, there were many deeply affected including the 1 800 Tasmanians who enlisted and served in Vietnam.

A total of 2 323 Tasmanian-born personnel served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975.

There was no dedicated Tasmanian unit raised during the War, so Tasmanians served in units from other states.

But our State can proudly point to the contribution of our own - each and every one of them.

It was a Tasmanian - Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith SG MC – who was Commanding Officer of D Company 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, during the Battle of Long Tan in those vicious battles in the rubber plantations of Long Tan, in south east Vietnam in 1966. Conditions during the battle were very difficult, with the combatants fighting in torrential rain and thick mist.

It is said that the 108 men from D Company fought against over 2 500 Viet Cong and North Vietnam soldiers.

Commanding Officer Smith was born here, in Hobart, on 25 July 1933.  After serving as a National Serviceman, he joined the Australian Regular Army and subsequently served during the Malayan Emergency between 1955 and 1957. A true hero.

Tragically, it was another Tasmanian hero who was the first National Serviceman to be killed in Vietnam - Albert Frederick McCormack.

Private McCormack was killed during the Battle of Long Tan.  He was one of 18 men killed during the Battle. He was given a full military funeral in Launceston.

Seventeen men from 6RAR were killed in the Battle of Long Tan along with one from the 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron.

And we remember, and commemorate them all.

Though the actual figure is not known, it is safely estimated that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese also died – and equally, we also remember and honour them as well. As our Veterans currently in Vietnam are asking us to do,

And today we should remember the motto of the Vietnam Veterans Association - “Honour the dead but fight like hell for the living”

The developments in Vietnam are indeed a reminder that not only the Association, but the entire community, must do just that.

Yes, we honour the dead. But for those living, their families and loved ones, many still scarred by the horrifying events in Vietnam now decades ago, but for so many it feels like it  was yesterday.

We will fight like hell to ensure you are not only remembered, that you are properly respected, and that you are supported.

Lest we forget.