ANZAC Day took on a very different meaning for Vietnam War veteran Ray ‘Blue’ Alexander after he returned from a conflict where good mates were lost.
The North Beach Returned and Services League (RSL) member who worked as an aircraft fitter and reconnaissance man (‘recce’) in Vietnam said Anzac Day brought back memories of a close friend who was killed.
“My father served in World War II so it was always about remembering other people’s fallen mates; it is way more personal after you’ve been in a war,” he said.
“A particular mate of mine got shot down and killed, we were close; Anzac Day to me is about remembering him.”
Mr Alexander’s defence force career has spanned 38 years from the age of 16 when he enlisted in the army, before joining the Vietnam War in 1968 at age 21, serving in Singapore in the early 1970s and serving in the Air Force.
“(In Vietnam) as a soldier and tradesman we repaired and serviced the helicopters and fix wing aircraft and regularly went flying as an observer dropping smoke on enemy targets for the US fighters and Australian bombers to come through and drop their hardware,” he said.
Grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since he returned from Vietnam, Mr Alexander said socialising with other veterans had been a healing experience.
“Having the RSL community around you; it keeps you sane,” he said.
“Veterans find it very hard – I joined the army when I was 16 – to communicate with the public sometimes.
“Once you’ve been in a war zone it changes you; it can be hard to understand for others.
“When people get old they also get lonely and can be isolating whereas being a veteran now you have the little group; there’s always somebody to relate to.”
Mr Alexander plans to attend the North Beach RSL Anzac Day Service at Charles Riley Reserve.