2009-04-23

Remembering the Fallen - (And the War nobody talks about)


WW1 Memorial Maungaturoto Congregational Church Cemetery

This coming Saturday the 25th of April will be ANZAC Day. A day when we in New Zealand and Australia remember those who fell at Gallipoli in 1915 during World War 1. There will be dawn parades to remember those young men who fell on the beaches and in the trenches.

The Landing at Anzac - John Lambert

In his diary dated Sunday 25th April 1915 William George Malone wrote

By now wounded men by the score were being brought back and laid along the track, all sorts of wounds. The stretcher bearers couldn't cope with the number and soon there were no stretchers. I got an immediate demand from Colonel Braund for more reinforcements but sent him a firm refusal. He then said as I would not send him up more reinforcements he would have to retire to his first position. I told him he never ought to have left it.

It was his first day on the beaches of Gallipoli and all around him the young men of his battalion were dying. In the same campaign George Bollinger sadly noted the casualties in his diary

Tuesday 27th April At daylight this morning a terrific artillery duel raged. The Turks put hundreds of shells onto our landing place. At 10.00 am we were marched north along the beach, and as we got under heights we met crowds of wounded coming down. Oh how callous one gets. Word rushed down from above for Hawkes Bay and Wellington-West Coast Companies to reinforce at the double, as our fellows were getting massacred. We threw off packs and forgot everything in that climb up the cliffs. We fixed bayonets on reaching top and got into it. The country is terribly hilly and covered with scrub from four to five feet high. On we rushed against a rain of bullets and our men began to drop over, before they fired a shot. We started to get mixed and were everywhere amongst the Australians. Our men were dropping in hundreds.

The total combined death toll for the nine month long Gallipoli Campaign was 120,000. As we all know it wasn't just Australians and New Zealanders that fought in both wars - but all our countries. Enemies and allies alike all had losses all following the orders of their respective leaders. We all know young men and woman died for their countries.
Airborne Mercy Korean War Helicopter - Image Public Domain

The Korean War followed soon after World War 2. In 1950 during the era of the cold war, and the fear of Communism spreading across the western world, communist North Korea attacked South Korea. The US and its allies stepped in. By 1953 on the 27th of July an armistance between China, North Korea and the US had been signed - yet even now North Korea has not signed a peace treaty. The standoff even now still remains. North Korea continues to remain a hardcore communist state with a nuclear capability and as we all know this country has featured very recently in the news.
I wasn't born when the Korean War happened. I was born in 1964 - just at the beginning of the escalation of the war in Vietnam. The 1960's as many of those who are older than me know was a decade of many changes and Vietnam was the one war mothers, daughters even fathers began to say to their respective governments was wrong. I was too young to know much until the early 1970's when I was 8 years old and watching the Television War night after night. We'd see the burning jungles from the napalm strikes, the soldiers maimed, wounded and dead. The children, the families and their villages bombed their bodies spread across the charred remains of their homes. And most vivid of all I remember this image Napalm Strike (1972) photographed by Huyhn Cong 'Nick' Ut in a year book my father had of (then) 12 year old Kim Phuc whom he doused with water after the shot was taken, then took to hospital. I recall Kim Phuc now lives in the USA.

Former Hues Helicopter pilot and Vietnam Veteran Robert Mason wrote in his 1984 best seller Chickenhawk just after he started his tour of duty in Vietnam...

That night while the rain tapped on my tent I wrote Patience a letter by candlelight. I told her how painful it was to be far away, how I missed her and Jack, how much I loved her. Small-arms fire popped and crackled in the darkness. I had talked to a guy at Belvoir who had told me how great his Vietnam tour had been. He had a villa overlooking the ocean, willing hooch-maids, casinos and great buys at the PX. He had been stationed with a group of advisors along the coast where he flew around officials from one Special Forces camp to another. I thought of him and cursed my luck.

Mason also wrote of the Vietnamese civilians and one incident greatly disturbed him. A young twelve year old girl had approached him and his comrades holding a baby she wanted to sell.
He writes...

......I had started to tell her that it was wrong to do what she was doing when I noticed something peculiar about the baby. Gnats were crawling all over the slits of its eyes. It wasn't blinking. I reached out to touch its pale cheek. When my fingers touched cold skin, I knew I had discovered something I didn't want to know....

The baby was dead and it horrified both Mason and his comrade who both watched as the girl went somewhere else still carrying the dead infant to try to sell to someone else.

Last year I met a man who looked older than his true years. He had been in three tours of Vietnam and his pain and bitterness was still there - long years after the conflict was over. He told me that people spat upon him and his fellow war veterans. They didn't have a parade or a welcome. People would leave him letters on his door step calling him a child killer and a murderer of innocent civilians. He walked with a limp - caused by the shrapnel from a Vietcong booby trap. He served his country at just 19 years of age - the average age of a combat soldier serving in Vietnam. There are others out there. Nurses, Engineers, Doctors, Aide workers who all have memories of the unwinnable war. They served their countries while as a child I watched it all on a television screen.

Now my children have asked me about the Vietnam War and I've told them what it was about. Did I tell them it was wrong - no I told them that the Vietnam War was a sign of the times and a symptom of the then Cold War. To those who protested against it - yes it was wrong. Why? Because their children were being sent to war and not returning alive - how could I criticise that. I can't.
Protesting the Vietnam War outside the Pentagon - Image Public Domain

This ANZAC Day I will not only remember those of World War 1 and WW2. But also all those who fought in those other nearly forgotten wars and not spit upon their sacrifice - but remember them in the same way we remember those brave soldiers who fell at Gallipoli.

Perhaps I'm daring to open up a can of worms here - my own opinion is it's time we talked about the Vietnam War instead of shutting it out of our memories because - it happened. Lest we forget.

4 comments:

  1. hey Liz, I didn't even know the congregational church had a monument. Whereabouts is it situated there? I think we're going to try and go to the dawn parade here in maungi.

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  2. Hi Amy

    It's on Gorge Raod at the first cemetery you see. Go up to the top of the hill there. It's just been restored. Alan and Bernice dropped in to see me and told me about it. Alan has written a great story about it. The RSA one is of course by the Centennial Hall. Yes I have to go as well at 6 a.m. I'll take some photos then write a quick story and send it to the Rodney times maybe or something..

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  3. The Vietnam War brought the fighting home to our shores more than any other conflict in that the men were treated like garbage on their home soil, they were traumatised by war, they were doing their duty for their country while those around them treated them as pariahs.
    These days it's near impossible to find anyone who'll admit to spitting on the Vietnam Vets; the gutless disappeared with the stigma, apparently.

    Fantastic post, Liz, thanks.

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  4. Hi Jayne

    I remember some of my neighbours spitting on a guy who had just returned from Vietnam. I was still little. My parents never did that. They said the war was wrong but blamed the politicians not the people who were sent there to fight. It just gets me why they can't talk about it even after so many years. Australian men were made to go they weren't given a choice same as the US. A sign of the times. I needed to write this post some how it seemed important to do for my kids and for myself. Thanks Jayne for the thumbs up really appreciated and yes those that did spit on the people returning home of course won't ever admit that now.

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