A VIETNAMESE Australian shared memories of the Vietnam War and his refugee family’s flight to Australia at a Quinns Rocks service yesterday.
About 80 people attended the Quinns Rocks RSL sub-branch’s Vietnam Veterans Day service on August 18, where Wanneroo councillor Hugh Nguyen spoke about his family’s experiences during the war.
The first non-military speaker at an event run by the sub-branch, Cr Nguyen said he was the son of a Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces soldier and grateful to the Australian soldiers who served then.
“I want to pay special tribute to the 18 soldiers who sacrificed their lives and the 24 who were wounded during what was a courageous and legendary battle known as the Battle of Long Tan,” he said.
The Darch resident also shared his appreciation for more than 250,000 Republic of Vietnam soldiers who died fighting for freedom, and more than 58,000 US soldiers who died during the conflict.
“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and 41 years since the Fall of Saigon,” he said.
“Freedom and democracy is still nowhere to be seen in Vietnam. The gap between the rich and poor is extremely wide.
“The Vietnamese people yearn for basic democratic rights that we take for granted in Australia, such as religious freedom and freedom of speech.
“I do believe, however, that with the seeds which you have sown in Vietnam through your courage and sacrifice some 50 years ago, freedom and democracy will come to Vietnam in the near future.”
Cr Nguyen said, as well as being a soldier, his father owned a small boat-building business which supported his six children.
“After the War ended in 1975 and South Vietnam was taken by the North, my father, along with tens of thousands of other South Vietnamese soldiers, was imprisoned,” he said.
“Once released (he was) subjected to ongoing harassment and persecution by the new communist regime.
“My father’s business suffered significantly and our livelihood was suddenly in jeopardy.
“In 1983, my parents had to make the heartbreaking decision to leave their homeland and flee the country they love in search of freedom and a life free from harassment and persecution.
“They took us on a treacherous four-day journey across the Gulf of Thailand in a small unseaworthy wooden boat; a journey which had such a profound impact on the mind of a small six-year-old boy at the time, that even after three decades the details remain just as vivid.
“Having endured storms, pirates and pursuits by the Vietnamese navy we were finally rescued at sea by an American oil rig.
“The next three years saw us living on daily rations, sleeping on bare concrete floors and finding whatever means we could to survive within the confines of various refugee camps located around Thailand.
“If we weren’t preparing meals to sell to other refugees then we would be selling anything from cigarettes to biscuits from a makeshift kiosk which we set up inside the camps.
“In 1986, we were granted our refugee visas and came to Australia.
“This country’s humanity and generosity has allowed my family to have a new life in an environment of freedom and democracy.”
Quinns Rocks RSL held an afternoon service at the Quinns Rocks Sports Club war memorial, where Salvation Army major Nikki Novell led the prayer.
Butler College student Elias Shoosmith read Lachlan Irvine’s Welcome home poem, and the service also included wreath laying, the I was only 19 song, The Last Post and national anthem, led by the Quinns Baptist College choir.
Yanchep Two Rocks RSL sub-branch held a morning service at the war memorial in Yanchep National Park, followed by a lunch at Yanchep Inn for members and guests.
About 60,000 Australians served during the 1962-75 war, and 521 were killed in action.