ARARAT'S Vietnam War veterans have gathered at the cenotaph to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, Australia's bloodiest battle in the conflict.
Vietnam Veteran's Day, which falls on the anniversary, was declared by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1987, and was seen by many as a turning point in Australia's recognition of its Vietnam veterans' service.
Veteran Robert Prideoux attended the service and said it was good to be able to get out and mingle with other veterans, despite COVID-19 restrictions stopping those in Melbourne from attending.
"It is good, the weather has been good. We are dwindling in numbers as veterans, but everything has been good. Melbourne mates, everything has been cancelled, so we have to talk to each other on the phone - but today is good to see everyone out," he said.
"It is critical for veterans to be able to speak and talk. It has been 50 years since I was able to speak about my involvement, so it is critical. The Vietnam veterans did not have that chance, so we hope that all other veterans get a chance to talk to their mates - it is very important."
Mr Prideoux was one of the last Australian soldiers to leave Vietnam in 1971, and served as infantry in the Third Battalion, during which he participated in the Battle of Long Kanh.
"We went under the ANZAC tradition, we subdued our area of opposition, and we did what our government wanted us to. Whether we were full time or national service. It was similar to what is happening in Afghanistan at the moment, they did their job, and now they are coming home.
"You can't help the politics, you just do what you have got to do."
Veteran Des Weller travelled from Beaufort to be a part of the commemoration.
He served in the regular army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967, and 1969 to 1970, during which he was based across the Phuoc Tuy province.
He said Vietnam Veteran's Day was a chance to remember his mates who had fallen on the battlefield, and pay homage to their memory.
"I was the section commander and I learned a heck of a lot and served with a wonderful lot of soldiers, who were predominantly national servicemen, I was a reg," he said.
"I make it a policy to remember all of my mates who fell over in Vietnam and the ones who have gone. It is just a chance to pay a little homage to them, that is the reason why I celebrate."
Mr Weller said his experiences in Vietnam changed his views on war.
"As silly as it may sound, when I went to join the RSL I was told I was not entitled to join the RSL because they said I had not served in a war, so I didn't join the RSL," he said.
"Once I got out of the army in 1972 I just got married and went back into civilian life, I didn't worry about it. That was it, I never worried about it, in fact I didn't rejoin the RSL until 2006 when I started living in Beaufort.
"I would much rather say now I am a pacifist, I no longer believe in wars.
"In Vietnam we did the right thing, we served our country, we never got beat, and we still lost."
Veteran Greg Johnstone spent nine months in Vietnam as an infantry rifleman in 1970 and 1971.
He said he hoped younger generations could learn from the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home.
"I think it is a day where Vietnam veterans can congregate together, reflect on old times and their service - and when restrictions allow, have a few beers together," he said.
"It is perhaps to reinforce our beliefs that we were there for the right reasons and to remember guys that didn't come home that we served with.
"I think it is a little bit difficult to try and tell very well trained soldiers what to do, they know well what to do. But I think one experience we have gained from the Vietnam conflict was the way veterans were treated when they got home.
"There were some terrible stories around about how Vietnam veterans were treated, both by the public but also by organisations like the RSL. I think Australia has learnt from that, the public in particular. They respect servicemen who have returned from a warzone."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox from The Ararat Advertiser. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Ararat shire, sign up here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.