Brian Humphrey jokingly refers to his old army mates as the "huggy battalion", for good reason.
"It's generally the first thing we do when we meet up," the former Digger says of his Vietnam comrades.
"I'm not usually a huggy person, but we do tend to embrace when we see one another. It gives you a great feeling."
And he's not expecting things to be any different when the battalion comes together in Terang on Anzac Day weekend for a special reunion.
This year marks 55 years since the men of 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion were deployed in 1967, duty-bound to do as their country asked them, in a foreign land in a foreign conflict that was the contentious Vietnam War.
Together, the Aussies and the Kiwis who came together in the first designated Anzac battalion since World War One forged an unbreakable bond that only soldiers in arms can truly understand.
"It's hard to explain to anyone who's never been in the army. We wore the same uniform, we ate the same food, we got the same pay; we will never lose that bond," says Brian, whose number came up in the National Service draft of 1966.
A former bank worker from St Arnaud, he served his two years in 2 RAR's D Company during the 1967-68 tour of Vietnam. Side-by-side, they experienced the unimaginable and mourned lost comrades. Of the company's 100 or so members, eight were never to return home.
Gordon Hurford is one man for whom that bond remains as strong today, if not stronger, than ever.
"To serve in war, in combat with each other is totally unique. These guys said, 'I will die for you', because that's what you have to do," he explains.
"Every one of those guys knows that they can count on me and I can count on them. There's no other bond like soldiers have."
Gordon was a second lieutenant in D Company, commanding a 30-strong platoon of both conscripts and regular soldiers of whom he is still immensely proud and touched that most choose to call him 'skipper' to this day.
A career soldier for more than 31 years, he was mentioned in despatches for courage and leadership in Vietnam and later served in three other battalions that took him to Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, the United States, the Middle East and Rwanda. He ultimately became a colonel and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993 for his contributions to the military.
But when it came to camaraderie, nothing compared to what he shared with his men in Vietnam.
"The one that's closest to my heart was 2 RAR, because I went to war with them and the Diggers I stayed in close contact with are the Diggers I went to Vietnam with in 1967-68."
These were soldiers who truly embodied the spirit of the Anzacs who went before them.
When the companies of 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and a component of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment were integrated in March 1968, the battalion was given the formal title of 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC). Although they had previously fought side-by-side in many conflicts, it was the first official integration of Australian and New Zealand infantry at unit or battalion level under common command.
"I think it made us puff our chests out," Gordon recalls. "We were pretty chuffed about it. I think it certainly made us feel good and we were really happy that the Kiwis were there with us, given that a number of Allies like the UK and Canada had chosen not to participate in the Vietnam war."
Brian Humphrey has called Terang home for more than 30 years.
"I think the whole town will turn out. I'm hoping it will be an Anzac Day like the old days when I was a kid," he said.
With more than 100 original battalion members and supporters expected to attend, accommodation is at a premium for the April 23-26 four-day reunion. It will incorporate traditional April 25 Anzac Day services, including a dawn service and gunfire breakfast, followed by a 10am service and march to the highway war memorial where Gordon will deliver the address.
While Brian will march alongside his battalion mates, leading the parade will be current serving 2 RAR member and Brian's great-nephew, Private Jack Shepherd, who will fly in from the battalion's base in Townsville after being granted special permission from his commanding officer.
It will be a proud moment for Brian, 77, to be joined by his sister's grandson wearing the same 2 RAR colour patch that he wore more than half a century ago. With a history dating back 101 years, pride is something that Terang RSL branch has plenty of, nowhere more evident than in 99-year-old World War Two veteran Len Pomeroy. Still an active member around the club, Len is set to again take his place in the march this year. As part of the reunion program, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled in the club's memorial garden on April 26, dedicated to the eight D Company soldiers of 2 RAR/NZ who were killed in action. That honour will go to retired Major Terry Dinneen, the company's most senior surviving member.
Representatives of three of those soldiers' families are expected to attend the dedication. Terang RSL president Terry Fidge says the plaque will be mounted on a two-and-a-half-tonne rock in the memorial garden which members have been busy preparing for the event. A Vietnam veteran, Terry views the reunion as a major fillip for the town, but he also appreciates the importance of providing a welcoming community setting for battalion members to come together.
"It doesn't matter whether you're a Vietnam War veteran or served in World War I or World WarII, these are people who shared the same experience and can relate to each other. Continuing those relationships is vital," he says.
The scars of war run deep for the Vietnam veterans; the memories of being spurned on their return home and the shadow of PTSD lingers still after 55 years, as Brian Humphrey can attest.
"There's no cure for PTSD. I've done courses and things, but you never lose it," he says.
After his two years of obligatory National Service, Brian flew home to Australia from the jungles of Vietnam on February 2, 1968. Just six days later he was behind the teller's desk in his new bank job in Terang.
There were no welcome-home parades and no counselling back then for Brian and his fellow veterans.
Thankfully, he says, small communities like Terang were much more welcoming than the hostile crowds and protests that often greeted the veterans in the capital cities.
Reunions, like the Terang event play an important role in managing PTSD, according to Gordon Hurford.
"Reunions provide a critical platform for ex-members of the battalion to get together, relate stories of their experiences which they can only tell to those they trust and know will understand and therefore are an excellent aid to reducing the effects of PTSD. It's like it was yesterday and all the years in between melt away and these guys are 21 again."
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