As someone who served in Vietnam, the reaction to my service has changed markedly, but the future is away from the past.
Let me tell you something. I’m unsure time has changed minds, but it has changed faces.
This nation, as I see it, reacts to things in a reserved way. I’ve often seen and experienced criticism on a personal basis, but seldom as a group. It’s not who we are.
Vietnam, as I’ve experienced, is perhaps the prime example of this. Now, I’ve never been spat on, or outed in a crowd, as we see in the movies, but we’ve all faced it.
There was the odd drunk who wanted to “have a go,” and there was one university student who wanted to repeat what had been drummed into him, but mainly, people wanted to know “how it was.” Which is a question that can’t be answered. And there are those who gave you a wide berth when they found out. But all of that was on a one-to-one basis, which makes you take it personally.
The only people that grouped against you were those who never change. Those of my Father’s generation, those who had experienced WWII, so, every loose connection of my Dad’s who never saw it as anything like “a war,” and would tell you so, followed by a “yeah” by whoever else was at the table.
But that was then. The criticism we’ve faced, both silent and voiced, from the older generation, and the detractors of our age has shifted. I don’t march, for my own reasons, but on days like ANZAC, when I’m met with the same situation, the younger generation treat Vietnam differently. They’re less likely to breach the topic, or the exchange is usually limited to a handshake, and their faces wide with respect.
Which means something.
In the coming years, the responsibility of days like today will fall on us. Vietnam veterans will become the most senior veterans, and our reaction to future conflict will become important. Which means we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We should continue to honour those who didn’t come back and honour service as service. No matter the location.