AT 6pm tomorrow, as chilly evening winds sweep across the Warrnambool war memorial on Cannon Hill, veterans of the Vietnam War will remember fallen mates and the controversial conflict that divided communities.
For some former servicemen in the region, emotional scars still run deep.
Forty-seven years ago on a cold, wet afternoon and night at Long Tan in South Vietnam, 108 Australian servicemen encountered heavily-armed Viet Cong forces estimated to number more than 2000.
The fierce battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Aussies, who lost 18 troops and 24 wounded while their opponents suffered 245 deaths and an estimated 350 wounded.
It has since been remembered in Australia as Vietnam Veterans’ Day.
For Warrnambool RSL sub-branch president John Miles and other south-west veterans it will be a chance to reflect on the war and rekindle friendships.
However, other former soldiers will choose to remain in the shadows, many still scarred after being shunned upon their return in the aftermath of widespread anti-war protests. “I’d love to be able to welcome more of our Vietnam War veterans into the RSL to show it’s a welcoming club,” Mr Miles said.
“There would be about 60 veterans from this war in the Warrnambool district, but some of them have never been to remembrance services.
“In the early days after the war many veterans were shunned by their communities.
“I remember walking into a pub in my Gippsland home town after I was discharged from the army and locals turned their backs on me.
“They were difficult times. I arrived back in Australia at 11am and was discharged from the army at 2pm. There was no follow-up, we left on our own.
“Fortunately, I was accepted into my local RSL.
“They were wonderful, but in some areas there was no welcome.”
Mr Miles said the big turn-around came in 1982, seven years after the war’s end, with an official welcome-home parade in Sydney.
He has since returned to Vietnam with his son to revisit war zones.
“It was the best thing I ever did. It took a load off my shoulders. My family and friends said I came back like a new person.”