Coming home from the Vietnam War was a bitter experience for many of the veterans. This poem is the story of one of them.
♪♪ And when the ship ... pulled in ... to Circular Quay,
I looked at the place ... where my legs used to be,
And thanked Christ ... there was nobody ... waiting for me,
To grieve ... to mourn ... and to pity …
Then the band ... played ‘Waltzing Matilda’,
As they carried us ... down the gangway …
But nobody cheered ... they just stood there and stared …
Then they turned all their faces away! ♪♪
- Eric Bogle from the song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, 1972.
Memories still last,
Of a time long past,
In reflecting back, to what we saw;
Some people appalled,
At what we all called,
The Second Indo-China War.
Chasing black cladded ‘baddies’,
Across rice paddies,
Returning from that hellish place;
Were we on our own,
Or welcome back home?
Or now were we held in disgrace?
Troopship at the quay,
My mum proud of me,
A small crowd gathered there at dawn;
Relatives were few,
Some friends also too,
Yellow ribbons on clothing were worn.
My father’s ghost there,
Sensed his stoical stare,
He’d seen this same ritual before;
I was glad that he came,
No longer in pain,
From his less controversial war.
A drum rhythmic beat,
Each soldier’s tired feet,
Ticker-tape falling, raining like snow;
Washed out of our greens,
Not minds it now seems,
Dirty red stains that most never know.
’Twas like make-believe,
In this ‘real world’ on leave,
‘Zombied’ and numb in a daze;
My mind kept pondering,
Thoughts kept wandering,
Like a lab rat, stuck in a maze.
That war would go on, and on,
That nobody won,
Whilst some built up their army careers;
Junior N.C.Os rose,
To senior W.Os,
And ‘Louies’ became brigadiers.
Yet the hypocrites remained just the same;
With each passing year,
Protesters ‘catching their ear’,
And the troops became suckers to blame.
Embarked on a mission,
Just like the military's ‘high brass’;
Off to ‘Uni’ for me,
And then I would be,
Freed at last, from those ‘kicks in the arse’.
In Canberra 3 years,
Students’ jeers and their sneers,
Protesting, lined up on some picket;
Ignoring that noise,
From immature ‘girls and boys’,
Since sole goal was gaining my ‘ticket’.
And Life’s circus abounds,
With so many clowns:
“I hear tell that you fought against Ho!
Waste of time don’t you see?
If you’re asking me?”
The ignorant become gurus who know!
Whilst old ‘friends’ once of mine,
I was later to find,
Became so eager to spread the ‘good word’:
“Vietnam ’twas a sin,
And loners like him,
Are all guilty and smoke pot, so I’ve heard!”
Gough then elected,
Yet, before being ejected,
Brought the economy down to its knees;
Finally shown out the door,
After ‘hand-outs’ galore,
‘Do-gooders’ held the Treasury’s keys.
Fraser simply denied,
And Hawke usually cried,
Yet, few things really changed from before;
And that policy stinks,
When a new leader thinks,
It’s O.K. if it’s they who wage war.
Others try to deceive,
Most spew out rhetorical words;
Cambodia could wait,
Aid for oil to Kuwait,
Ignored Timorese for so long and the Kurds.
‘Coming home’ now, for our troops,
Facing no protesting groups,
Unexposed to those slogans which shame.
Let’s not forget freedom’s not free,
It must be fought, can’t you see?
And those who served us, should not have worn blame!
Both photos from The Sun newspaper - 12th May, 1967