New Zealand had a modest involvement in the Vietnam war, which was in contrast to the major wars in the previous 40 years. We sent 3900 personnel between June 1964 and December 1972, and 37 of those young men did not come home. This Queens Birthday weekend was spent remembering those young men, and honouring the men who served in a war that many saw as wrong and has had massive repercussions on both the Vietnamese and Western forces for generations.
You may ask why we spent the last 5 days marching, speaking and remembering when this was all so long ago, and ANZAC day is our national day of remembrance for all our past armed servicemen and women. To answer that, go back to that time as the troops returned from fighting in a foreign country for what the government at the time deemed an important enough cause to lay down Kiwi lives. See here for an overview of the political and historical overview.
In 1972, if you were a returning serviceman there were no parades. There were no effusive speeches from the elected officials. There were no welcoming communities ready to buy you a pint at the pub as a small thank you for your part in a confusing and controversial conflict. There were plenty of protesters, plenty of officials who refused to recognise your involvement in serving for your country, and for many Vietnam War veterans all this contributed to serious mental health problems associated with fighting in an unpopular war. Add to this the physical and genetic effects of Agent Orange, widely thought to have been used in hand sprayers and dropped from aircraft to negate the cover of bush to the Vietnamese.
I was honoured this weekend to have been asked to take part in the Honour March through Wellington and be present for Whakanoa & Parliamentary Welcome. I walked with my Father in law who served two tours in Vietnam in Victor 5, and elsewhere in the crowd was my great Uncle who served in the SAS. It was a different atmosphere to how it must have been for the returning servicemen back in the 70's. There were people applauding, the officials spoke and apologised for previous wrongs, and promises were made.
So what did it all mean in the big scheme of things? To the millions of Vietnamese dead and the Kiwi's who died also, probably not a lot. But to the men and women who returned, it meant that there was acceptance that even though many did not agree with why they went, we applaud their efforts and they have our respect and pride for the job they did. Not just 12 month tour.
See here for more info on the NZ involvement in the Vietnam war.