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NZ’s Vietnam War Veterans commemorate service – and lives after

News: 17 August 2017

New Zealand’s Vietnam War veterans are commemorating the fallen, remembering the war and what came after, and catching up with old comrades this Friday, and through the weekend.

New Zealand’s Vietnam Veterans’ Day will be held on Friday 18 August. Veterans groups are holding Commemorative services at cenotaphs and marae across the country, to remember the dead. As per custom, these services are followed by gatherings of old friends and comrades.

RSA National Vice President Bob “Bukit” Hill served as a section commander in Vietnam in 1967/68. He retired from the Army in 1985 as Regimental Sergeant Major, and went onto a career in human resources management building major New Zealand infrastructure projects.

The lives of those who returned from Vietnam have covered a full spectrum, from success to hardship, he said. Some became captains of industry and leaders of the military, Government, and society, while some others fared less well. 

“Many of those who went overseas returned to make significant contributions at all levels to New Zealand society. There are those who struggled when they came back – and are still struggling. This is no different for the returned men and women serving today. Life takes all sorts of unexpected turns.”

The intense shared experience of operational deployment creates a bond that lasts a lifetime, Mr Hill said.

“It’s very difficult to put the certain sense of camaraderie into words. I’m sure this was the same for those who went to the First and Second World Wars, as much as it is for those who served in more recent deployments. It forms friendships that never weaken, created by relying on each other in difficult situations.”

Jack Hayes served in Vietnam in 1970/71 as a Lieutenant and Troop Commander of New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) 4 Troop. He viewed the 18 August Commemoration as a day to remember all Vietnam Veterans, not just to focus on those who died there. Mr Hayes retired in 2009 as an Army Major. He continues to work with the New Zealand Defence Force as an Adviser on Medals Policy.

“Over 3,000 men and women served New Zealand in Vietnam, and came home to live good lives making positive contributions to New Zealand society. They have worked in a wide range of occupations both here and overseas, have married, had children and most now are focussed on their grandchildren. They are proud of their service in Vietnam. They deserve the respect they receive from almost all New Zealanders.”

The experience New Zealand servicemen gained in Vietnam was of real value in shaping our Defence Force at the time. We had Air Force pilots and crew who learned (from the US Air Force and the Australians) a great deal about the use of helicopters and the role of forward air controllers. We would never had gained that level of experience in New Zealand, Mr Hayes said.

“Many Vietnam Veterans stayed in the Army and Air Force, reaching high rank and levels of responsibility. Vietnam shaped them and added to their experience and they were highly regarded by all for their operational knowledge and leadership. That extended into their civilian occupations when they retired.”

Mr Hayes also commended the care provided to veterans by Veterans’ Affairs.

“The new Veterans’ Affairs team are looking after our Vietnam veterans and their families very well. There will always be some disappointment, but overall this cohort has been supported well – and it looks even better going into the future. Well done to the staff at all levels in Veterans’ Affairs.”

  • A national service for Vietnam Veterans’ Day will be held at the National War Memorial Hall of Memories, in Wellington, on Friday 18 August.

Attendees will meet at the Hall of Memories, Buckle Street, at 10.45am for the 11.00am start.

Why commemorate 18 August?

This day was chosen for its particular significance: On 18 August 1966, New Zealand Army’s 161 [161 Bty, RNZA] Battery gunners supported 1st Australian Task Force 6 RAR infantrymen in the Battle of Long Tan to defeat Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army near Ba Ria in south-East Vietnam.

Through this significant victory against the Communist forces, the South Vietnamese and allied forces were able to secure the province for the rest of the war.

Published on 17th August 2017