13 May 2008

Vietnam veterans honoured in Canberra

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson acknowledged that Australia didn't necessarily treat soldiers returning from the Vietnam War with the respect they deserved.

At a Parliament House reception for the veterans of the battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral, Mr Rudd paid tribute to the men who took part in the battles, described as some of the most hazardous of the war.

Twenty-six Australians were killed during the fighting at Coral and Balmoral, which took place during the "Mini-Tet" offensive by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces in May 1968.
"Tonight, as prime minister of Australia, I want to pay tribute to your service to Australia in this great battle of the Vietnam War," Mr Rudd told the veterans.

"For those whose service to the nation through this terrible war has not been properly honoured by government, I express regret.

"We can never repay the price that you have paid, but tonight I say that we will properly honour the memory of those who fell in the actions around Coral and Balmoral."

Dr Nelson, a former defence minister, said the treatment of diggers upon their return from Vietnam was one of the things Australia had got wrong as a nation.

"There are many things in our country of which we are immensely proud but there are some things that we have got wrong," he said.

"The way in which significant elements of Australian society responded to your return to our country at the end of your service and at the end of the war is one example of something we got wrong."

To rousing applause Dr Nelson said: "Whatever we do as a nation facing our future we must always make sure that we work tirelessly to honour the service and sacrifice of men and women who, in our uniform, serve the policies and views of the government of the day of our country."

On Tuesday there will be a national commemorative ceremony at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra to mark the 40th anniversary of the battle.


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