Community gathers in support of our brave Vietnam veterans

Published 3:30pm 18 August 2022

Community gathers in support of our brave Vietnam veterans
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

More than 100 people gathered at the Cenotaph in Burpengary this morning to pay tribute to the men and women who bravely served, suffered and died in the Vietnam War.

Today marks Vietnam Veterans’ Day, which is held each year on August 18 on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. 

The emotional service, hosted by the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia Caboolture Sub-Branch Inc, included a march and wreath laying ceremony.

For President Norm Wotherspoon, the day is full of many emotions as he recalls his time during the war, as well as the impact his family has had on him since returning home. 

“We have this service every year to honour the dead and to thank the veterans, and in particular, the families of Vietnam Veterans,” Norm said.

“I have major scars and memories of my time in the Vietnam War – one of them being a day where I had to bury 245-enemy dead.

“I don’t know where I would be today without my family, in particular the love of my life (his wife) and my three adult children.

“Our families have suffered as well because it hasn’t been easy for them either.”

Speaking at the service, Bill Abboud from the Caboolture Sub-Branch said it’s important to give thanks to the thousands of Australians who were involved in the war.

“Vietnam Veterans’ Day is important to all of us - through events like today, veterans and communities can heal and stay connected,” Bill said.

“We gather to say thank you to those 60,000 Australians that served during the 10 years of our involvement in the Vietnam War.

“We recognise all those that have served and pay tribute to the veterans who have lost their lives during various battles, returned home ill or wounded, lost their lives in the years since their return, and those who still carry the physical and emotional scars of their service.

“We pause and reflect on the bravery, teamwork and endurance Australians displayed during this war.” 

Below: Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia Caboolture Sub-Branch Inc President Norm Wotherspoon. 
Community gathers in support of our brave Vietnam veterans

Stories of war

The guest speaker at this morning’s service was John Clarkson, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force for almost 25 years.

During his speech, John spoke about the importance of recognising Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even shared a few moments that left a lasting impression on him.

“Firstly, during the years between 1965 and 1968, I personally witnessed on three separate occasions on three different bases – Amberley, Darwin and Butterworth in Malaysia - an aircraft crash and burn due to a technical failure within an engine,” John said.

“The first of these I knew instantly that it was a fatal as we saw it hit the ground from 200 feet and explode not 200 metres from where we stood.

“In the second and third occasions, although we saw the aircraft disappear off the end of the runway in a ball of flames, we later discovered that the crew had escaped with minor burns.

“Then in 1971 during my Vietnam posting, on three separate occasions, I was part of a small team sent to inspect a helicopter which had been shot down moments before.

“The squadron had a policy to cover the situation when an aircraft had been shot down by enemy ground fire but did not burn.

“Within a minute of being notified of the crash, the squadron maintenance chief would select one man from each trade and one SNCO and arrange for them to be flown by helicopter to the site.


Community gathers in support of our brave Vietnam veterans
Above: John Clarkson, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force for nearly 25 years. 

“Arriving at the crash scene only a minute or two after the aircrew had been evacuated to the hospital, the crew’s task was to examine the aircraft and assess whether it could be flown for just one flight back to the base for repair.

“If the answer was no, the helicopter was slung under a large US Army Chinook helicopter and returned to base for repairs.

“Sometimes, while the team was inspecting the helicopter, they could see their own helicopter gunships attacking an enemy target about a kilometre away.

“However, upon arrival at the scene on each occasion, the one common factor every time was the blood - yes, the blood from the aircrew member who has been shot right throughout the interior of the helicopter. The entire interior sound proofing material was red.

“I simply could not believe that so much blood could come from just one man.

“But we were there to do a task – and we kept our mind on the task at hand and did it well.”

See more photos from the day in the gallery below:

Lest We Forget

In a press release, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh said the Vietnam War was era-defining. 

“The some 60,000 Australians who served in Vietnam deserve our utmost gratitude and respect; 521 gave their lives in the conflict and over 3,000 were wounded,” Minister Keogh said.

“Around 15,000 of them were conscripts through the National Service Scheme.

“At that time in Australia there was growing opposition for the war, and so upon their return our Vietnam veterans did not always receive the acknowledgement they were due. Today, they form the backbone of our veteran community.”

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