Today is April 25th. ANZAC Day. It is perhaps the most important national occasion for Australia and New Zealand. Today, we honour those who have served in war, both past and present. We honour those who have sacrificed their lives. We honour the contribution and suffering endured by the service men and women and their families. Today is also my Dad’s birthday. He was a Vietnam veteran.
Growing up, celebrating my Dad’s birthday was not like most birthday celebrations. We didn’t serve him breakfast in bed. We didn’t have birthday cake after a barbecue with friends.
Instead, my Dad went to the Dawn service for ANZAC Day. He then spent the rest of the day at the local RSL club with fellow veterans.
He had never spoken of Vietnam, not really, and I was hesitant to ask him about it. But, when I studied Vietnam in Year 11 Modern History, I asked my Dad about his experiences in the war. We sat at the kitchen table for hours. I sat quietly, in shock, in horror. I absorbed what must have been a fraction of the pain emanating from my Dad as he explained what he had endured.
I now understood why he still had nightmares. I now understood why he came up punching if you woke him suddenly in the middle of the night. I could never fully understand his experiences, but I had better insight into the depth of his pain. He told me years later that sitting and sharing with me helped in him. I can only hope it helped him as much as it helped me.
I lost my Dad a few years ago. He was a long time sufferer of alcoholism and emphysema. Smoking and drinking can be two such repercussions of war when you don’t get the necessary professional support.
My Dad, like many veterans, never really spoke of his experience, nor did he seek help early on. The stigma of the Vietnam War that met returning soldiers contributed to his silence, and the effects of war were not as well understood as they are today. It took almost 20 years for Sydney to offer a ‘Welcome Home’ Parade for veterans. That helped a little, but the wounds of war were far too deep for him to recover.
I spent my childhood watching what the Vietnam War did to my Dad. I watched my Mum desperately trying to support him without the right tools or information to do so. We were a family that stood by and supported him as best we could. I don’t believe my Dad’s original family knew the depth of his illness until after my Mum died 13 years ago. My father was a great man, yet he was a man with a troubled soul. Post traumatic stress disorder is a terrible affliction. I saw the toll it took on my father. I lived through the toll it took on my family.
My Dad’s medals will be worn today by his grandson, a boy who has no understanding of what his Grandfather went through to earn these medals. I can only hope that he wears them with the respect they deserve. Perhaps, someday, he will gain some knowledge of what was sacrificed for those medals to be worn: My fathers self-respect. My fathers self-hatred. My fathers anguish for what he could not do, rather than what he did do.
Our veterans deserve understanding and the tools they need to help them cope with the consequences of combat operations. We must encourage them to ask for help when they need it. We must be strong enough to get them help before it’s too late. It’s too late for my Dad. My family has paid the ultimate price. Now, I want to do whatever I can for those who have served, past and present.
Veterans deserve nothing less.
Lest we forget.
If you like what you’ve read, will you share it?