Screening: ABC, 8:30 Wednesday 6th June, 2001
Reflecting on the aftermath of the most celebrated Australian victory of the Vietnam War, the Battle of Long Tan, Second Lieutenant Dave Sabben recalls:
“You have an image in your head... that guy, he will never hold his kids on his lap. He’ll never have a Sunday lunch with mum and dad again. You just sense the loss… and that’s undescribable.”
The loss of which Sabben speaks is not the death of a fellow Australian soldier. It is that of a North Vietnamese soldier who lay dead on the battlefield following an intense firefight that prevented a full-scale attack by the North Vietnamese Army on the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat.
As with so many issues surrounding the Vietnam War, the line between ally and enemy often became blurred in this contentious conflict, as did questions on whether the war was valid, whether conscription was just, whether the Australians were fighting for their own national interests or that of their American allies, and whether the war had ever been “winnable” at all.
Episode Seven of Australians at War, “Trying not to remember”, looks back at the issues surrounding the Vietnam War, including the protest movement and the conscription debate, but most importantly provides first-hand accounts from individuals who risked everything to fight in a “dirty war” they either believed to be right or were conscripted to serve in.
Tragically, returned servicemen all too often continued to suffer upon their return home, where Australia’s citizens had become deeply divided over key aspects of the war. But their trauma was not always the result of anti-war sentiment, the stress of combat, the effect of injury or exposure to defoliants such as Agent Orange.
As Lieutenant Bill Hindson reveals, some of the deepest wounds were the result of disrespect from veterans of earlier conflicts who deemed service in Vietnam as somehow lesser than that in previous wars.
Today, few Australians deny that the men and women who served in it are as worthy of our respect as any in the history of Australians at War.
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