Howard gives apology to Vietnam vets

MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard has apologised to Australia’s 50,000 Vietnam Veterans, for the treatment they received when they returned from the war.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, as well as Vietnam Veterans Day. During the Vietnam War, more than 500 Australians died and about 3,000 were injured.

This afternoon, in the Parliament, the Prime Minister paid tribute to those who served in Vietnam.

JOHN HOWARD: The sad fact is, Mr Speaker, that those who served in Vietnam were not welcomed back as they should have been at the time.

And I think the nation collectively, Mr Speaker, whatever our views may be, and I include those who supported the war as well as those who opposed it, we collectively failed those men at the time, and they are owed our apologies and our regrets for that failure, Mr Speaker.

And the very least that we can do on this 40th anniversary is to acknowledge that fact, to acknowledge the difficulties that so many of them have had in coping with the post-war trauma, and the magnificent contribution that they have continued to make to our nation.

So this afternoon and tomorrow, Mr Speaker, we will in different ways, and I know in a totally bipartisan fashion, pay proper regard to their bravery and their service, and their commitment.

They did what their country lawfully asked them to do at the time, they did it with distinction, with honour, and with bravery, and they should have been more properly honoured some 40 years ago for that.

MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard.

And the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, was visibly moved when he read out an emotional letter from the Labor backbencher, Graham Edwards.

Mr Edwards is the only current Member of Parliament who served in Vietnam, and he lost both of his legs in a land mine blast.

KIM BEAZLEY: Had I the opportunity to speak today, I would have taken the time to publicly forgive the person from my mother’s church in Scarborough, who wrote an anonymous letter to my mother saying she hoped I’d died as a result of my wounds, as I was a killer.

I could not have found it in my heart to say those words a few years ago, but it is time to move on.

Today is not a day to enter into the divisive issues surrounding Australia’s involvement in that war. Today is a day when our Federal Parliament should honour our Vietnam veterans, recognise their service, and say to them they did a good job in the best tradition of the Anzacs.

Last night I had dinner with the Vietnamese Ambassador. As we left the table, he said to me that both our countries must look to the future. I agree. I would wish him and his children, indeed all the children of the world, that which was most elusive during the last century – peace.

In closing, I want to say I am proud to have served my nation, proud of all who served with me, proud of my mates and the contribution they made to Australia. I take pride in their mateship, and I don’t need anyone’s apology for that.

MARK COLVIN: The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, reading a letter from the Member for Cowan, Graham Edwards, in Parliament this afternoon.

Published: 2006, August , 17 2006 | Time-stamp: 18:46:00 | By: Mark Colvin | Article Link: abc.net.au | Article Title: Howard gives apology to Vietnam vets

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