Veterans gather to remember Vietnam

Les Green (left), John Kielbicki and Benny Bensi at the service. Picture: GREG TOTMANIn April 1969, Ian Birch’s train out of Wollongong station was delayed.

He was a national serviceman, bound for Sydney and eventually for Vietnam and protesters had lain across the train tracks to make a statement against conscription.

Mr Birch joined residents and other Illawarra veterans of the decade-long conflict at the Flagstaff Hill memorial on Saturday evening to mark Vietnam Veterans’ Day.

It was a service with particular significance, also commemorating 50 years since the first active Australian personnel arrived in the country for a war that killed 521 Australians.

Mr Birch, junior vice-president at the Illawarra Vietnam Veterans Association, said the crowd at the memorial service was a reminder of how public attitudes had changed.

He remembers when soldiers returning home from the war ‘‘were abused and had things thrown at them’’, and said many still didn’t want to be recognised.

‘‘I served 12 months and one day in Vietnam and I have only got involved in the last two or three years.

‘‘Last night was a good reflection on the way things have changed, I think, just because of the way people supported us.’’

Vietnam Veterans’ Day commemorates the 1966 Battle of Long Tan, in which 18 Australians died.

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