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Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - 1 had intended in this grievance day debate to deal with a matter relating to cottages for the aged, but I am now awaiting confirmation of information I received earlier this morning. I realise that the time granted to me in this debate is extremely short. Therefore I want to raise in this House the matter of the late Private Larsson, who was unfortunately killed in Vietnam last Saturday. On behalf of the parents of this soldier I wrote to the Minister for the Army i.Mr Peacock) early in January requesting that this soldier not be sent into active combat in Vietnam because of his extremely poor eyesight. The soldier, as the Minister informed me, was transferred from hi< then regiment, the 7th Battalion, into the 5th Battalion and he was in due course boarded. Finally I received from the Minister the following letter:

I refer again to your personal representations concerning Private S. G. Larsson and his proposed posting to Vietnam.

All members of the Army, whether regular soldiers or national servicemen have the same liability to serve overseas should the needs of the Army require it.

The member's medical condition has been investigated by officers of my Department in Eastern Command and he was medically boarded on 3 February 1970 and was found to be tully fit for service everywhere. His eye condition is .orrected by the wearing of spectacles, which are obtainable from any source, including Vietnam.

Private Larsson will be issued with 2 pairs ot spectacles in accordance with normal Army practice. This is to ensure that if one pair of spectacles is damaged, a replacement pair is immediately available. Let me assure you that no soldier would be permitted to serve in an operational area if it was felt his medical condition would endanger either his own life or that of his colleagues.

Careful consideration has been given to Mr and Mrs Larsson's request but I cannot accede to their wishes, even though I can readily understand their anxiety and, in fact, the anxiety of any parents whose son is required to serve in an operationa area.

In earlier correspondence I pointed out that Private Larsson was in need of glasses of a type requiring specially ground lenses which were not readily available. The fact that the Army, having its wilful way, directed this soldier back to the 7th Battalion, into Vietnam and into a combat zone would leave a very real thought for ever with his next of kin, his parents and his brothers and sisters, that he probably .lied as ; result of this poor vision. I understand he lost his life through a mine explosion in Vietnam.

It would be very interesting to know, and there should be some form of inquiry to establish, whether this did occur.

With the short time that is available to me I also wish to read a letter which was directed to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and of which I received a copy. The letter is from the late soldier's father and it says:

Thirty years ago, you andI were engaged actively in a conflict on an issue that was beyond doubt. We fought for freedom from individual oppression and tyranny, andI was proud to be an Australian.

A short while ago, I was informed that my son was killed in action in Vietnam.

In Vietnam there emerged a terrible armed struggle between the peoples of one race - father against son, brother against brother, each fighting desperately for principles I no longer understand, but it was a family struggle, which in the final event will only be resolved between the people of Vietnam.

Yet into this conflict, Mr Prime Minister, powerful neighbours intruded, and so you committed Australia. You felt that by armed force, your ideals might be thrust upon these people. Through your intrusion, you and your colleagues introduced into Australia, the very principles against which I was prepared, with others, to die if necessary.

This is your Australia, Mr Prime Minister, and 1 no longer have pride in being an Australian.

Into the conflagration that is Vietnam, you sent my son, a man whom you knew that without his glasses, could not see a hand held four feet away, or a car at 30 feet, and whom you told could see reasonably well with glasses. You advised him to keep them clean, yet in the torrid humidity of Vietnam, you could not tell him how.

He went, Mr Prime Minister, because you told him it was right and honorable.

Was it, Mr Prime Minister? Why? For whom?

A thousand questions flood my mind. How do I answer his young widow, or my children?

Did he die to further the political ambition of yourself or your colleagues? Or was it to allow you to ingratiate yourself upon the leaders of the most powerful, yet most hated and feared nation in the world today?

DoI answer them that it is the cowardice of men too proud to admit to a horrible tragic error?

Wherein lies the truth Mr Prime Minister, and how long must this carnage of Australian manhood continue How many more must die under the conditions you have chosen to impose. What is the truth? Why? For what?

In the depthless horror of sorrow and grief. I turn to my friends and ask, but none can tell me, none can answer, so I must turn to you.

Perhaps if in the interests of human justice, and of truth, the news media and journals of our day can find the courage to publish my letter to you,I may find truth, or perhaps, Mr Prime Minister, time may show that my son did not die in vain.

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