Comment: Vietnam Veterans Day – 2023 at Coolah NSW

I had the honour to be invited by Les Baynham ( one of my B Company 9 RAR Vietnam diggers) to be the guest speaker at their towns commemoration service and to share this special day with him and his wife Judith, fellow veterans, the Coolah community and the VIPs.

I can honestly say that it was the best for content, participation and spirituality I have ever attended. By including the local people in the activity Les captured the very essence of the essential meaning of Australia’s communities for each other – Care, Commitment, Service and Sacrifice.

It was a full day of activities which began with a Dawn Service at the Coolah cemetery grave sites of Coolah’s first veteran deceased Trooper William Kerin (a Boer War veteran) and Paul Large who died in the Long Tan Battle.

After the Service, a hot breakfast was had at the ‘Top’ Pub Coolah Valley Hotel and a chance to thaw out from the chilly weather.

The Memorial Service at 11 am was held at the Vietnam Memorial Avenue which has a tree planted for the 18 soldiers who died at Long Tan. Those trees were planted on the 7th September 1966 that day Paul Large was buried in the Coolah cemetery.

Veterans and school students marched behind the 18 Australian Flags carried by Coolah ladies and the 9 RAR Banners carried by Terry Pierce and Dave Sheeky, all under the command of Rod Slater to the Memorial Stone.

The Memorial Service

In his opening address before formally commencing the Memorial Service Les Baynham’s welcome and opening address was from the Heart.

I believe many, of the Returned Servicemen / Servicewomen, here today would agree with me. We believe in one Country this great Australia. One Race the Australian Race. One Flag the Beautiful Blue Ensign, Southern Cross the Australian Flag that is Proudly Flying above today. The Flag with the Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew & the Cross of St Patrick, The Flag that proudly Drapes the Coffins of our Fallen. Of all Veterans, as they are laid to rest.

We do not look at the colour of the Digger alongside of us, serving with us. As one of my great mates stated Leslie. J, we were all Green, referring to the colour of our uniform in Vietnam. I believe this is the case of all Servicemen / Servicewomen that are defending our great Australia today. Also, only two Genders, Male & Female, Boy & Girl, Man & Women. Also, all people are equal in the eyes of God. 

I welcome to this great country Australia all who have Defended Australia. All that have served. All that are serving & all those that will serve in the future welcome to Country. Welcome Home. Thank You, for keeping the spirit alive.                                                                   

The Memorial Service included addresses by The Hon. Mark Coulton LNP Federal Member for Parkes, and Mr. Ambrose Doolan the Warrumbungle Shire Mayor. For me the highlight was listening to the daughters and relatives of Coolah’s deceased warriors servicemen from the major wars and those representatives from the RAN and RAAF who spoke specifically of their Vietnam Service.

Paul Large’s sisters Robyn and Sandra read this poem In Memory of Paul Large, composed by Dave Sabben MG, Paul’s D Company 6 RAR 12 Platoon Commander:

In my address I honoured the 60,000 men and women who served in Vietnam and remembered the 521 who were killed and paid tribute to their service, sacrifice and bravery, and pledged to keep their spirit alive in the memories of all Australians.

Here are extracts of my address,

“This day is more than that for it includes recognition of those who bear the after burden, the after shock of War: the families:

  • who suffered the loss of their loved ones: your grief and loss can never be forgotten and those who continue to pick up the pieces of the physical and mental damage to their loved ones: sons, brothers, fathers and uncles, and the care of/for them

Many of you here today either fought in Vietnam or have relatives and friends who did and you lived through the greatest social and political dissent in Australia caused by the Vietnam War since the conscription referendums of the First World

Only those who served will ever truly know the unique nature of their military service: Its liability for combat operations that is both compulsory and continuous and includes the very real possibility of being exposed to the risk of physical or mental invalidity or death.  All of these extreme difficulties were encountered by our Australian troops in Vietnam against a skilled and dedicated enemy.

I stand in awe, respect and pride of what I saw and experienced of our men, their skill  and their commitment to the task for the rest of my life. I was privileged to be a leader of some of them. The Anzac qualities of service, courage, compassion, mateship and sacrifice were present in them.

For many of our Vietnam veterans and their families, life after the war would never be the same. Many of us have developed long-term health problems associated with what we were exposed to in Vietnam.

Community attitudes against the War at the time of our return home meant veterans were denied the recognition of their service to their nation that they rightfully deserved. It was the Welcome Home Parade in Sydney in 1987 that the Vietnam Veterans’ sacrifice and service was properly recognized and now continues with this special day’s tribute.

We need to remind ourselves of the importance of supporting our diggers before, during and after their tours of duty.

My Royal Australian Regiment’s Motto is Duty First. After service we have added another: Keeping the Spirit Alive.

Your presence here today assures me that you also have Keeping the Spirit Alive as your Motto

After the Service a formal sit down lunch was had at the Coolah Rodeo Grounds Hall where in the true spirit of country hospitality a good time was had.

Appreciation of Les and Judith Baynham organising and hosting the Day was the presentation of the Australian flag signed by all attendees

I hear that the day ended in the camp kitchen at the Caravan Park.

An outstanding event , well done Les and Judy and the Coolah community

Duty First

Ted Chitham

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