Sunday, May 25, 2008

About bloody time

We ask them to travel to foreign shores, to kill for the greater good, only to deny them recognition and later hide information that impacts not only on them but their families.
Later - we apologize, but it is enough, and can we ensure it never happens again?

Full story here;

At the Manurewa RSA, five not-so-old-soldiers gather around a table to explain why they are calling a truce. There is not a celebratory beer in sight.

Like 3500 other Vietnam veterans, they came home in the late 60s and early 70s to begin the war at home. They returned to a country which didn't want to know about Vietnam.

They were not welcomed back - unlike earlier conflicts, there were few parades before flag-waving crowds. Instead they were spat at, abused and punched by protesters who knew little of what they'd been through.

"We were ordered to march down Queen St and the public told us we were a bunch of arseholes," says Ken McKee Wright, a career soldier who spent six months in Vietnam in 1967.

They were left to fend for themselves by a system which didn't recognise post-traumatic stress. They were shunned by many RSAs because the Government had not declared war.

Then they started dying....

.....When Garry O'Neill went home to Christchurch he would walk home from Burnham base in battle dress with his ribbons on. One evening he was walking with a female friend whose brother had been wounded in combat when a woman came up and spat on him.

"I just recoiled but Devon took it to heart and dropped her."

Most soldiers resorted to changing into civilian clothes off base to avoid confrontation.

Early last year, O'Neill lost a daughter to breast cancer.

He remains dismayed at the narrow range of conditions, in veterans and their children, recognised as due to the chemicals absorbed in Vietnam.

Yet, he says: "Some positive things have been done. It's going in the right direction."

What hurts Zac Harris most is the denials. In the 1980s, veterans' children were being born with deformities including spina bifida and their parents were spending thousands on health care. Other veterans were dying young.

"At that time they were denying we were in the spray zone.

"The evidence was in Defence headquarters all along.

"I remember Helen Clark on TV saying I don't know what these Vietnam vets are groaning about - they all volunteered.

"I nearly smashed my TV."

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