As a young girl growing up in Australia, I remember that we would only see our national flag on government buildings and the vehicles used by high ranking government officials. I do not remember ever seeing my national flag flown at a private residence or on a privately owned vehicle. You never saw the Australian flag on clothing. So, imagine my surprise when I first came to the United States just prior to July 4th, 2003 and saw flags flying from cars, gas stations, worn as clothing and hanging from so many houses! At first I thought it was because the Americans were only building up to celebrate the 4th. But as time passed, the flags continued to fly. It was at this time I realized that Americans have a love and a pride for their country and they are not afraid to show that love and pride. I think the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 helped cement and strengthen the love the average citizen has for this great country. When the Australian veterans returned home from Vietnam in the early ‘70’s, they were treated exactly as their American brothers. No one told them “We are proud of you” or “Thank you for your service”. What they were told was to forget about it and to put it behind them. Those with physical injuries were treated but it seems they were hidden from the public eye, to be forgotten. Those without physical injuries were told to “go home and get on with your life”.
Does this sound familiar to anyone reading this? So, the Australian veterans went home, married, had children, drank too much, smoked dope, beat their wives and children and many committed suicide. They simply did not understand what was happening to them.
After world war II, Russian dictator, Josef Stalin, is reported to have said, “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths are simply statistics”. Statistically, approximately four million young Americans served in the Vietnam War. Of these, approximately fifty-eight thousand died. But over three hundred and three thousand received physical wounds of various degrees to earn the purple heart. Post Traumatic Stress veterans numbered over two hundred and eighty two thousand with various degrees of disability.
During this same time, approximately sixty one thousand Royal Australian military served in the Vietnam War. Five hundred Australians were killed in action or as a result of their wounds, over three thousand and one hundred were physically wounded and Post Traumatic Stress veterans numbered thirty one percent.
This does not sound like a lot compared to American losses until you look at the percentage statistics. In 1970 Australia the entire population numbered less than thirteen million and the entire military was approximately one hundred thousand. The population of the United States in 1970 was over two hundred and three million. A much larger population, but the pride and the brotherhood between these veterans is identical. My husband and I were riding the train from Brisbane and began speaking with another couple. My husband had his “Vietnam Veteran” ball cap on and the other man said he was also a Vietnam Veteran. As they compared notes, they discovered they had been the same age while they were in-county, they operated in the same A.O. and they had both carried field radios. Both men showed the pride they had of their service and both showed a weariness in their eyes. What I found amazing was the fact they sat so they could watch each others back and when a young loud mouth came through, they both gave him “that look”. We shall never forget our proud men who fought in Vietnam and they will forever be our hero’s.