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ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL JEFFERY AC CVO MC GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA ON THE OCCASION OF ST JOHN OF GOD HEALTH SERVICES VIETNAM VETERANS DAY SERVICE NORTH RICHMOND, NSW 11 AUGUST 2005 Ms Annette Schmiede, Chair of the Board, Saint John of God Health Services Mr Ramon del Carmen, Chief Executive Officer Councillor Bart Bassett, Mayor, Hawkesbury City Council Mr Barry Billing, State President, Vietnam Veterans Association, New South Wales Branch Veterans Families and friends Good morning. I am delighted to be here today to take part in the commemoration of Vietnam Veterans Day, a day that honours all servicemen and women who served in the Vietnam War. And it is a special honour to not only be among those of you who served, but also with those of you who gave and still give their support; and I talk of course of our families; wives, partners, siblings and parents who kept the home fires burning, often in very worrying circumstances. Few events in the history of this country have so greatly divided its people as the Vietnam War. Few were untouched - whether they served or protested or watched it on television. The Vietnam War was long; the 10 years of Australian involvement was one of the longest of modern times. It was hard to recognise the enemy; he looked and dressed the same as the ordinary peasant, whilst indiscriminately laid anti-personnel mines and booby trapped tunnels were a daily physical and mental threat, particularly in the latter years. At the time, the Vietnam War generated great passion and controversy throughout the western world. And its aftermath was important in shaping the political destiny of much of South East Asia. I would think that like most veterans, I am proud of my service in Vietnam, because in the province we were allocated (Phuoc Tuy), we were mostly able to ensure that normal life went on - farmers farmed, teachers taught and government administration was effectively carried out. In the heat, danger and physically punishing environment of Vietnam all the glitz of civilian life was gone; fast cars, the footy and making a dollar were no longer of great importance. What was of real importance was the need for absolute trust in one another at all times, mateship, teamwork, leadership and a strong sense of doing the right thing by one's platoon, ship or aircraft crew. Some 50,000 Australians served in Vietnam. Five hundred and twenty were killed in action and almost 2,400 wounded. Thanks to the speed and dedication of our splendid volunteer doctors, surgeons and nurses, few of our casualties died from their wounds. This was a vast improvement from previous conflicts, and a fact I witnessed as the Officer Commanding Bravo Company of the Eighth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment on operations in the Phuoc Tuy province, where not one of the 40 men wounded in my company died from his wounds; an incredible medical achievement. We were young men and women tasked to do a difficult job in very difficult circumstances, and we did it well. Unfortunately, many paid the ultimate sacrifice for this service. Many more returned home under a cloud of public discontent, disillusionment and misunderstanding. For some, the consequences of this unwelcoming homecoming may still be being felt today. It is for all those soldiers who continue to battle the negative effects of their wartime service, that organisations like St John of God Health Services play such a critical role. St John of God Health Services provides quality service to people in need of care and treatment. St John has established numerous programs for those suffering from the health effects of wartime service, in order to assist in their recovery and to encourage increased awareness and acceptance of the experience causing distress. The hospital and therapy centre here at North Richmond, offers treatment programs specifically designed for our war veterans. These programs are helping all involved to better understand the ramifications and effect of war. They endeavour to provide those in need with the tools to ease painful memories and to regain control of day to day life. Many lessons have been learnt from the post war experiences of our Vietnam veterans. This knowledge has greatly assisted today's commanders to support the mental and physical health of their servicemen and women, both in theatre and on return to Australia. Ladies and Gentlemen. On this day, Australian armed forces serve in many differing operational and geographical locations across the globe, including Solomon Islands, East Timor, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. We should pause to reflect on their service and pray for their safe return to family, friends and loved ones. Let us also remember that 2005 is the 90th year since the landing at Anzac Cove, the 60th anniversary of the cessation of World War II and the 32nd anniversary of Australia's announcement of a cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. It should be our continuing commitment to ensure that the ANZAC flame and tradition of care, burns as strongly for our serving soldiers and their families as it does for our veterans of Gallipoli, Tobruk, the Kokoda Track, Kapyong and Vietnam. Most service personnel, particularly those who have seen action, possess a sense of the spiritual dimension. From my own perspective as a commander, some of my most intense moments spiritually have been in the steamy heat of the jungle in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, with the sentries posted, the cicadas chirruping, listening to the quiet voice of our padre - invariably standing on an ammunition box - before we went into action. Then, after the violence and shock of action, the quiet aftermath, tending the wounded, praying with the padre over our dead, and thanking God for our own survival. Then writing to the parents, as a commander has to do, almost always alone, sitting in a little tent at night, invariably in the rain - wet, dirty, uncomfortable, tired and sad - to tell those good people at home that their son had just been killed or wounded and struggling to find the words to convey the sense of it all. At that time, in particular, but also in other difficult times of my life, I desperately needed something beyond the sturdy presence and support of my soldiers, to be with me, to help me - and invariably that presence was the Lord. And it is within this context I commend the holistic approach of the St John of God Health Services which is based on the charism of the 16th century Portuguese born, St John of God; and on the compassionate service and hospitality of his religious order for more than four centuries across the world. I also commend St John for recognising this important day, as such occasions greatly support our veteran community whilst enhancing the St John of God ethos of compassion, dignity and respect. The hard work necessary to coordinate these commemorations does not go unnoticed, and I would like to acknowledge the contribution of staff, friends and families that have made this day so special. Today we honour the memory and sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam. We salute the mateship, sense of humour and that indefinable ANZAC spirit that continues to so effectively guide all Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen. May we always stand together on this very important commemorative day, as veterans, families and mates. Thank you.
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