THE crowd of more than 100 people at last night’s Warrnambool ceremony to mark Vietnam Veterans’ Day was a bittersweet sight for Doug Nolte.
Mr Nolte, of Port Fairy, was heartened by the attendance, a sign of the growing support for Vietnam veterans, but sad that the same support wasn’t there when he was discharged after fighting on the front line in Vietnam in 1968.
Mr Nolte, a conscript, was wounded by mortar shrapnel when serving as a forward scout, but said his psychological wounds took far longer to heal.
He said the lack of support to reconnect with civilian life after he was discharged in 1969 made him feel “dumped” back into society.
He said he was withdrawn and nervous after his war experience and it was only in the past 20 years that he had regained self-confidence in public.
Mr Nolte said the growing support for Vietnam veterans was gratifying.
He put down the change in community sentiment to the passage of time and increasing awareness of the ongoing mental impact that war had on many servicemen and women.
Warrnambool RSL sub-branch president John Miles said about 80 people from throughout the south-west, many of them Vietnam veterans, attended an inaugural dinner last night at the Warrnambool RSL that followed a wreath-laying ceremony.
Mr Miles said it was hoped to make the dinner for Vietnam veterans an annual event.
Vietnam Veterans’ Day was formerly called Long Tan Day.
It is held on August 18 to commemorate one of the major battles of the Vietnam war at Long Tan in 1966 during which 105 Australians and three New Zealanders held off a Viet Cong force estimated between 1500 and 2500. Eighteen Australians died and 21 were wounded in the battle.
At last night’s ceremony, Warrnambool Vietnam Veterans sub-branch president Don Roberts acknowledged the major contribution that conscripts had made to Australia’s effort in the Vietnam war.