HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) :
The ACT party supports this apology to Viet Nam veterans, alongside all other political parties in this House. Our Viet Nam veterans served with as much heroism and distinction as did the veterans of all other wars, yet they flew home under cover of darkness so that their return would not become the focus of demonstrations. That these men, and a small number of women, have endured great privation in the service of their country never seems to have entered the national consciousness, despite the 37 fatalities and 187 wounded.
Our veterans have many reasons to be proud. New Zealand’s contribution included a large humanitarian component, but when our forces went into action they did so with great bravery. Our force was unusual in being entirely voluntary. During the Viet Nam War the Anzac spirit was reignited, as a combined Australia – New Zealand battalion was formed. At the Battle of Long Tan, for example, Australian infantry, supported by New Zealand artillery, distinguished themselves during an engagement with a much larger enemy force. Some of our troops also served with other allied forces in theatres of war, particularly the United States.
We should not forget the breadth of the contribution made by New Zealanders in Viet Nam. This contribution included members of the New Zealand Navy, all corps and regiments of the New Zealand Army, the New Zealand Air Force, as well as many civilians. Although much has been done regarding medallic recognition of campaign service for these groups, the matter of approval of foreign awards for individual acts of gallantry is yet to be resolved.
Our returning soldiers should at least have been treated with respect. They served with bravery and professionalism, and they had a proud record of assistance to civilians. Yet on their return they were not treated with the respect that those serving their country are entitled to. Although it was a Government decision to send troops to Viet Nam, it was the troops themselves who frequently bore the brunt of public anger and antagonism. This was both unfortunate and undeserved. There were further consequences for other military personnel at the time, such as the decision for Defence Force personnel in Wellington to wear civilian clothes rather than their uniforms, in order to avoid confrontation.
Servicemen and servicewomen judge operations not only in terms of success or failure but in terms of lessons learnt. What have we as a country learnt? An apology today is important in terms of the recognition of an injustice, but daily actions are the measure of real intent. Parliament has work to do yet to ensure that no veterans of a future conflict will ever find themselves in the circumstances that these servicemen, servicewomen, and families found themselves. We need to change the many statutes that determine entitlements and protections for any citizen serving his or her country.
This weekend’s Tribute 08 programme is a long overdue acknowledgment and recognition of the sacrifices made by those who participated in the Viet Nam War wearing the New Zealand uniform. My own small but longstanding tribute to these fine New Zealanders has been to donate all that I have earned, and will earn, as a territorial force soldier to an RSA-approved charity, the Tasman Fund. The proceeds will go mainly to Viet Nam veterans and their families. I chose this charity because these veterans were, in my opinion, the most unappreciated in our history.
Few have said it better than singer-songwriter Eric Bogle:
Though that Asian War’s long over, they’re still burying their dead,
Yet somehow their bond grows strong with each broken thread.
The Act party salutes all those who participated in this campaign, and we thank them for serving their country. To the families of those who died, and who have subsequently suffered, I say that we acknowledge and appreciate their hurt and their sacrifices. Kia kaha. Lest we forget.
Source: parliament.nz | [Volume:647;Page:16443] | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Ministerial Statements | Viet Nam Veterans—Crown Apology