IN the morning light of this week’s Anzac Day dawn service, Vietnam veteran Alan Bryant will try not to think about his unwelcome return to Australia.
Although public opinion has now changed to recognise the efforts of those who served in the conflict, the Warrnambool man admits he still hasn’t gotten over the poor reaction to returning soldiers in the 1970s.
“Regardless of your opinion of whether war is right or wrong, we should honour the people involved, who did these things with the best intentions,” he said.
“If you want to point the bone, point it at the ones making the political decisions.”
Mr Bryant’s road to Vietnam began in 1967 when he was called by conscription to leave the Army Reserve band to begin radio operations training. A year later, aged 21, he volunteered to join a squad headed for Vietnam, where he co-ordinated radio communications for allied units.
“We volunteered because it was a big adventure and they were all great fellows.
“I’d never been on a plane before — I thought it was exciting and it seemed like everything I hoped.
“There were three guys who missed out and one offered me $3000 cash to swap because he was really disappointed to miss out.
“I don’t regret going, even though I was pretty messed up for a number of years.”
It wasn’t until venturing into the bush with an infantry group that he grasped the intensity of the Vietnam conflict. “I went with the South Vietnamese paratroopers and the helicopters flew in sideways to avoid being shot down.
“There were some real eye-opening moments.
“We came under fire a few times.
“You fire rounds back but you can’t see anything.”
Throughout his service, Mr Bryant said he felt like he was in Vietnam to do a job, but after returning to Australia without fanfare he began to question the experience.
Angry protestors opposing the war had changed public perception of the conflict and soldiers who served in Vietnam were unpopular in many circles, he said. “When I got home I felt bad and I never told anybody that I’d been to Vietnam.
“For me that sense that I’d done something wrong never really went away.
“The recognition is nice nowadays … but I think it’s really important people understand what people did.
"I still feel sad for the Korea veterans because people seem to forget about them.
"Vietnam has recognition now but there were hundreds of people at Korea who gave their lives for their country and we need to remember them."