Vietnam vets remember unpopular war

  • Breaking
  • 19/08/2013

Former soldiers were commemorated at the weekend on the annual Vietnam Veterans' Day.

2013 marks a special anniversary – it's the 40th year since the Paris Peace Accords were signed in a bid to end the war.

It's more than 40 years since rifleman Bruce Knight completed his posting to Vietnam.

"Saw the ad on tele – 'join the army, go to Vietnam' – so I did just that."

Despite the passing years the memories are still etched in his mind, and immortalised in the hours of Super 8mm film he shot.

Brian Cubdy also fought in Vietnam.

Thirty-seven New Zealanders died on active service, and Mr Cubdy says the operations they were involved in were high in risk.

"Whenever we went out we knew that probably not everyone was going to come back," he says. "But it wasn't going to be me, I was coming back."

Three-and-a-half-thousand New Zealanders served in Vietnam between June 1964 and December 1972.

"In many ways it was a broad brush of New Zealanders who were involved in the war," says Claire Hall of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

"There was a mix of civilian, infantry, medical aid and rehabilitation."

The first New Zealand troops arrived at the Bien Hoa Air Base just north of the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. Back in those days it was called Saigon, and it was the capital for the American-backed South Vietnamese as they were fighting off communist forces from the north .

It was the first war New Zealand fought without our traditional all, the UK.

"It was a political decision, it wasn't a military decision to contribute something to support our major ally, the Americans," says Mr Cubdy.

And the fighting against the guerrilla-style tactics of the communist Viet Cong was unlike either of the World Wars.

New Zealanders fought and socialised alongside Autralian and American forces, taking a slice of Kiwi culture to the war zone.

"I think there was a bout 5 or 6 hangi pits for the hierarchy of the battalion and other guests," says Mr Knight. "I dunno how many people we fed, but there must have been 200 or 300."

But they took on local customs too, including the odd drinking session of Vietnamese rum.

"That was disgusting – just about burnt the top of my head off," says Mr Knight.

They were involved in major encounters, including the pivotal Battle of Long Tan, exactly 47 years ago.

In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords established a ceasefire in Vietnam, paving the way for the withdrawal of American troops and the end of an unpopular war

But our forces were already home - the last of the New Zealanders had left by the end of 1972, without the traditional welcome home our troops received after previous conflicts.

 "A lot of veterans who came home were just advised to get out of uniform and disappear," says Ms Hall.

"Soldiers got the blame for the political decisions that were made, and that was something I think that was very sad," says Mr Cubdy.

Plus, the soldiers were effectively hung out to dry by the government of the day, prompting the Crown to apologise to veterans in 2008.

"Yes it did provide some sort of closure and an apology for some rather silly things the government of the day did to its employees," says Mr Cubdy.

The peace accords eventually had no great effect, and the war ended with the defeat of South Vietnam in April 1975.

It's a chapter in Mr Knight's life that's vivid in his mind, but evokes mixed emotions.

"My grandson thought about joining the army, but I just said no. I wouldn't want him to go through what I went through."

And it's a chapter in New Zealand's history that would prove to have major implications in our foreign policy.

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source: newshub archive