Vietnam vets want to be consulted before rapprochement.
COLONEL Don Tait, 71, lost his best friend in the Vietnam War.
The night before his mate was due to return home after 12 months service in February 1969, he was shot dead.
This memory has plagued the former forward observer with B Company First Battalion, and it is the reason why he will not return to Vietnam.
”I left my best mate in Vietnam, one week after he died,” Colonel Tait, who served with the 12th Field Regiment Royal Australian Artillery, said.
”It’s something I’ll never forget. I have a close connection and I don’t want to go back.”
Colonel Tait was part of a group of Vietnam veterans yesterday against the RSL’s proposal for Australian and Vietnamese veterans to reconcile.
While each had their own personal reason against the rapprochement idea, overall they were simply upset no one had asked for their opinion.
”Most of us found out about the proposal via email, about a week ago,” he said. ”My general concern is for the veterans who are already traumatised and on medication, I don’t think reconciling with former enemies will help their situation.”
The group of ex-servicemen were supporting fellow Vietnam veteran Richard Bigwood, 65, at the launch of his autobiography, We Were Reos, at State Parliament. The former infantry soldier said he was concerned about how the rapprochement would affect the Australian-Vietnamese community.
”Many, who are ex-servicemen from South Vietnamese forces, have become good Australians. We should be thinking of them, instead of trying to go back and make friends with North Vietnam,” he said.
Former private Barry Russ, 65, agreed that the relationship had to be repaired before there could be reconciliation between Australian and Vietnamese veterans.
”I don’t know how a memorandum of understanding can be put forward when the south isn’t even recognised by the north,” Mr Russ, a former machine-gun specialist from the first Australian Reinforcement Unit and D & E Platoon in 1966, said.
The state member for Baulkham Hills, David Elliott, who served with the army’s peacekeeping force in Bougainville in 2000, wrote to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, proposing the government organise a ”heroes’ parade” for Australian peacekeepers from the past 20 years in the lead-up to the centenary of Anzac celebrations in 2015.
It was an idea welcomed by the Vietnam veterans who had to wait until 1987 for their parade.