Unique Brand of 'Vets'
Back 40 odd years, wild stories,
‘Vung Tau Ferrymen’, spinning ‘warries’,
Some really love ‘flappin’ the breeze’.
These days, stack veterans’ clubs,
Pension Review Claims and local ‘pubs’,
And talk of ‘Danger’, upon the high seas.
Later, to the Gulf far from battle,
No sabres for them there to rattle,
Yet, distress as departure drew near!
‘Twere really blockading cruise ships,
As crews on routine, three months trips,
Not locked up in a jungle one year.
Proponents for that up-coming action,
Mainly Hawke’s Left Labor faction,
‘Twere once opponents to our Asian fight.
Each unsupportive, way back then,
But now, as much older wise men,
Claiming this time, they were gurus and ‘Right’.
Meanwhile, a small ‘Silver Fox’,
Then appeared teary-eyed on ‘The Box’,
A ‘bodgie’ puppet in that military push.
And this time, one surely could say,
Those famous words, repeated: ‘All the Way’ ,
Applied equally to President George Bush.
As the leading light of all wailers,
‘Bon voyaging’ sad sailors,
On T.V ... What a show! ... What a sight!
Each sad, muffled, snivelling word,
Just rhetoric previously heard,
’Twas lapped up, by all those dressed in white.
Yet, like in times of farewell gone before,
Troops departing for some foreign shore,
All of these were regular, ‘volunteers’.
Every one of our sailors had signed,
War-service contracts, that each clearly bind,
‘Twas part of their freely, chosen careers!
As the destroyer’s combined crew,
From the captain down, each well knew,
Absence, would be in weeks and not years;
With conditions safe and secure like these,
Can someone help me now, tell me please,
Why that sickening, sobbing and tears?
A short tour and safe return, then assured,
For all of these navy deck-hands aboard,
As was the welcome home they later received;
We as a nation acknowledged our debts,
Gave thanks to this ‘unique’, new brand of vets,
Whilst none were cheated, blamed nor deceived!
When our sailors were farewelled at the wharf in 1991 by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, I daresay the average Australian TV viewer must have been astonished, if not amazed, at the degree of emotion displayed by this new wave of Australian servicemen embarking for overseas to the Persian Gulf, for a tour of duty that would last just 3 months. I for one, tried hard to relate the scene to those farewells in 1966 and 1941 and 1915 ... but found it extremely difficult to do so!
It was around midnight I recall on 12th May 1966 when hundreds of ‘Tigers’ were boarding a Qantas flight, heading for the jungles of Vietnam. Their average age was about 21 and half of these were young conscripts who really didn’t want to be there anyway. Their tour was to last 12 months, not 3, and within that time 85 Australians would be killed and 400 odd wounded in Vietnam. Naturally there was a mixture of fear and apprehension amongst the troops and their relatives ... but of weeping souls there were none. Stoicism of yesteryear is fast disappearing … it would seem!
“Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen!”
- William Mauldin in Up Front, 1945.
Unique Brand of 'Vets'