WHEN Mandurah RSL member Barry Todd came back from Vietnam it was to a protesting public and a government unwilling to recognise his service.
Late last year, Mr Todd was finally recognised by the Australian Government and given his “wings” for his service as a door gunner for the US Army during the Vietnam War.
Mr Todd was serving in the Australian Navy when he was sent to Vietnam in 1967.
“I spent 12 months in Vietnam as a door gunner with no recognition,” he said.
“Last year the Navy decided to issue us with wings.
“It is rather unique as they’re the only ones ever issued – 49 of us were presented with them.”
Mr Todd said they were asked to do something they were not trained for and were not prepared for.
“I never thought I’d be doing that and it took 49 years for the government to recognise that we did do it,” he said.
“A few men weren’t given their wings because they died up there.
“They were shot down because that’s what happens in war.”
They called the mixed group of Australians and Americans – EMU – which stood for experimental military unit.
“We flew most days, and were involved in combat operations and escorting ships across rivers,” he said.
“To me it was rewarding because I was able to fly around and see a lot of the country, but I also did a lot of things that I didn’t agree with.
“So I pledged to go back and 17 years ago I went back to see how the people were faring.”
Mr Todd said the holiday was not a pilgrimage.
“It was rather rewarding, but it was also sad,” he said.
“We met a young Australian tour guide in Vietnam and I told him I’d served,” he said.
“A woman behind me said, ‘can I talk to you?’
“She said: ‘I used to protest (against) the war on my lunch break and weekends and I want to apologise to you, because we were protesting (against) the wrong people. We should have been protesting (against) the government.”
In the years following the war, Mr Todd was reluctant to acknowledge his service. “It wasn’t all wine and roses, we accepted that was what war was all about,” he said.
“I came back and people abused us. I just didn’t wear my medals and didn’t march in Anzac Day ceremonies.
“A lot of the older guys who fought in WWI and WWII told us it wasn’t a real war.”
In 1987, Mr Todd finally marched in Sydney as a Vietnam veteran.
“It was emotional and it was sort of helpful. It allowed a lot of guys who went to Vietnam to get out of their shells and be proud of what they did,” he said.
“Nowadays people say thank you for what you’ve done when you’re wearing your medals. “They’ve brought it into the public eye who people were and how we veterans were treated.”
Mr Todd spent another 16 years in the Navy after he returned from Vietnam in 1968.
“I was involved in a lot of combat and lost a few friends,” he said.
“I still have my moments, I’ve had a good life, but there’s still stuff that happens that brings things back into your mind.”
Mr Todd now lives in Joondalup with his wife and 14-year-old granddaughter.
He gets down to the Mandurah RSL regularly and meets up with other Vietnam veterans.