The war memorial, to those Australian troops who served in Vietnam, was finally unveiled in 1992, thirty years after the first men had gone there and twenty years after the last had come home. In lots of ways it represented a sad indictment on the Australian Government and people for having turned their backs on the men who had gone to do their dirty work. For many veterans it was a welcomed, belated recognition and yet for some ... it was far too late.
“Who will remember, passing through this gate,
The unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate …
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?” - Siegfried Sassoon, 1918.
“What passing-bells for you who die in herds?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns!
Only the stuttering rifles’ rattled words
Can patter out your hasty orisons!”
- Wilfred Owen (on the Western Front, 1917).
Vietnam Memorial - Canberra
Minds rewind, of images and time,
At a re-union … in the year ’92;
Belated dedication, from our nation,
That was then … long overdue.
Last act and scene from that play,
Each actor … society’s past ‘pest’;
Emerging from the dark, on parade,
False guilt … put finally to rest.
Canberra City, then the stage,
Around a memorial … to their own,
There it would end, where it started,
A monument … carved out of stone.
In an amphitheatre, at dawn,
Tributes … as the service began;
Prophetic eerie words echoed out,
From that epic poem … ‘Long Tan’.
Five hundred parents, all with flags,
Tears welling-up … in their eyes;
Three insect-like choppers, symbolic,
Chilling sound droned … down from the skies.
Wave after wave of war veterans,
Each unit … in turn very proud,
Marching past their new icon,
Flanked on each side by large crowd.
‘Pollies’ again … ‘show ponies’ so vain,
Though the culprits … stayed well away;
With some still no doubt being haunted,
By those deeds … of their sad yest-er-day.
Previous rank gone, now neutral,
‘Stripes’ and ‘pips’ … not meant to last;
Ex-sergeants now mates with Diggers,
‘Old scores’ left with the past.
Re-union dinners held this night,
The final curtain drew near,
Descending on ten ‘aged’ members,
Of my old platoon … who were here.
Doug, Col and Jim, ... Tom, Bill and Larry,
With Johnno … all tuned to each word;
Whilst ‘Shorty’ and ‘Borg’ spun their ‘warries’,
Stories we’d already heard.
Each recalling all those times,
From which our friendships first grew;
This mix of old ‘Regs’ and young ‘Nashos’,
At last … acknowledged ... yet long overdue!