TUMUT will pause to remember its veterans from the Pacific war in World War II and the Vietnam War at a ceremony at the Richmond Park Cenotaph this Saturday. “Victory in the Pacific Day is on August 15 and Vietnam Veteran’s Day is on August 18, so we have a combined service,” Tumut RSL Sub-Branch president Robert Watson said.
“We have been doing this for about 30 years.” Mr Watson said it would be a small but solemn and important ceremony.
“It won’t be as big as days like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, but it is important to remember those who gave their lives in those conflicts, and those who continue to suffer as a result of them,” he said.
There will be wreath laying, the Last Post and commemoration to the fallen during the ceremony, which will begin at 11am. Tumut’s Phil Bennetts was based at Nui Dat during the Vietnam War, and believes it was a war Australia should not have been in. “It was just political between the north and south, and we didn’t benefit a real lot from it,” he said. “It was a waste; we lost a lot of guys.”
Mr Bennetts was conscripted into National Service and was with 1 Field Squadron RAEME during the war, fixing armoured personel carriers and flying equipment to the soldiers on the front line on board helicopters.
Initially, he liked life in the service. ”I rather enjoyed it; a different way of life,” he said. However, like most folk, he didn’t enjoy the war, and despite not fighting on the front line, he was never far way from danger. “One of our staff sergeants heard scratching under his floor, and thought it was a gecko, but it turned out to be a Viet Cong soldier, digging his way under us from a nearby disused coal mine,” he said. He was captured and taken to Vung Tau for interrogation.
Not all the danger came from the enemy, and Mr Bennetts and his fellow servicemen saw US planes dropping the notorious defoliant agent orange from a couple of hundred metres up.
“You had to wait until your offspring were born to know if it affected you,” he said. “Luckily for me both my boys were perfect, but a couple of guys I knew in the infantry, their children had hearing and eyesight problems. It was a very cruel thing”.
The aftermath of the war was also perilous. “A lot of guys couldn’t settle down after the war and a few mates committed suicide. A lot of RSL Clubs wouldn’t accept us because they thought we hadn’t been in a real war.” Mr Bennetts acknowledges that the Australian public’s acceptance fo Vietnam veterans has improved over the years. “It’s a lot better than it used to be,” he said.