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Address by Governor-General on the occasion of dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial: Dandenong, Victoria. \n



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ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL JEFFERY AC CVO MC

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF

DEDICATION OF THE VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL

DANDENONG, VICTORIA 30 APRIL 2005

● Mr John Wells and Mr An Nguyen (N’win), Co-chairmen, the Vietnam War

Memorial of Victoria Incorporated ● Mr Hung Chau, President, Vietnamese Community of Australia

● Major General David McLachlan, President of the Victorian State Branch of

the RSL ● Distinguished guests

● Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to take part in this dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial of Victoria in memory of the servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War.

It is a pleasure to be here among all of you who served and the families and friends who have supported you.

The splendid partnership between the Vietnamese and Australian ex-service communities, the people of Dandenong and the communities from throughout Victoria has created a remarkable visual memorial, that has as its theme, respect for service and honour for supreme sacrifice.

I commend Mr Wells the co-ordinating committee, government and opposition, corporate sponsors, and indeed the many hundreds of individuals in the community for helping establish this striking memorial to human endeavour and indomitable spirit with its helicopter wall, the wall of flags and the wall of honour. This site is indeed an outstanding example of civic respect to the fallen.

Ladies and gentlemen.

Few events in the history of Australia so greatly divided its people as the Vietnam War.

No one living in this country was unchanged by the war - whether he or she served in South East Asia, protested against the war, or watched it on television.

From the Australian perspective, the Vietnam campaign was the longest war in modern history.

It raised political passions and moral controversy in this country and throughout the western world.

And it played an important part in shaping the political destiny of South East Asia.

Historians recount that, at the time, Western democracies were alarmed by the existing spread of communism and its potential to expand into new regions.

They pointed to examples of the desperately fought Malaya/Singapore Emergency which lasted twelve years from 1948, the bitter Korean War following the communist attack on the South in 1950, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and the attempted overthrow of the Indonesian Government by the Communist PKI in 1965.

The Domino Theory, that if one country becomes communist then other nations in

the region would probably follow, was taken seriously, and one result was the establishment of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation headquartered in Bangkok.

In this political context, America, Australia and other nations ultimately committed forces to the Vietnam War, a war they failed to win.

Of the almost 47,000 Australians who served in Vietnam, more than 500 were killed in action and around 2400 were wounded.

And for Vietnam the loss of life was enormous. It was a desperate, traumatic time of painful memories for so many from both sides.

Ladies and gentlemen.

In reflecting on the past, I would suggest that we soldiers, Australian and Vietnamese, were simply doing a hard job to the best of our abilities as required by national policies of the time.

The Vietnam War - like any other war - was not pleasant. It was dirty, dangerous, frightening at times, boring in part and certainly never glorious.

What was glorious was that ordinary men and women - seeing their duty to their units, their country and their colleagues - did what was asked of them and did it magnificently.

We were tough, capable fighters - yet there was compassion.

Compassion for enemy wounded; compassion for their dead; compassion for prisoners of war; compassion for the civilian population - which is probably one reason why Australians and former Australian soldiers are so welcome in Vietnam today.

And today, happily, relations between Australia and Vietnam are cordial and

close, as they should be, as indeed are our relations with other nations whom this country has had to fight in earlier times, in defence of our freedom and democratic values.

Australians and Vietnamese share an understanding of the profound effects of the Vietnam War, a war that has influenced the national identities and historical experience of both our peoples.

For example, in the years since the Vietnam War, perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Vietnamese Australians has been their record of successful adaptation to change, despite the sorrow and distress of fleeing one’s country of birth, facing financial, language and cultural barriers, and with memories still sharp from the horrors and injustices of war.

And yet, as we know, emigration faced by the people of many nations through the history of mankind, has not just been a chronicle of dispersal and grief; it has also

been an extraordinary account of contribution and adjustment.

Indeed the dedication of this memorial attests, thirty years after the war, to the settlement, over that period, of more than 56,500 Vietnamese-born citizens who have made Victoria their home, along with 155,000 across Australia, who have raised families, built up businesses, adopted citizenship, added richly to the diversity of Australian culture, and created enduring foundations for future generations.

And whilst that process was going on, the peoples of Australia and Vietnam have come together in a spirit of peace, friendship and mutual goodwill.

Ladies and gentlemen.

What we commemorate today is the recognition of the supreme sacrifice made by soldiers of Australia and Vietnam who fought so long and hard for what their countries required of them.

But what we should also recognize, encourage and applaud is the ongoing productive relationship of Australia with Vietnam.

All of us have a duty to work together to honour the dead from both sides, repair old wounds, and look to the future. We need to work together to ensure this relationship is matured to a point in time, where the differences of the past, including a long and bloody war, will be replaced by a bonding of our peoples, developed through mutual respect and shared common interests.

If we can achieve that, then the sad memories of the past might be softened in the knowledge that this country - including its many Vietnamese/Australian citizens will link successfully and progressively with Vietnam, in helping to make our region and the modern world, a better place in which to live.

Thank you.