Sheralyn Rose responds to Honest History

‘Sheralyn Rose responds to Honest History highlights reel’, Honest History, 18 June 2015

Dr Sheralyn Rose, the wife of a Vietnam veteran, has responded to our highlights reel on Vietnam mythbusting. Rather than ask her to provide this material as a comment on the original post we are posting it here separately.

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History changes in the telling. Whether personal memories become distorted or public records are used selectively, the accuracy of each is dependent upon human interpretation in the first instance. So, I believe, there can never be a universal and immutable truth.

My own interpretation of my connection with Vietnam during the 1960s differs now from then, a contrast afforded by reflection. During the time (1967-68) my fiancée was deployed in South Vietnam with the Australian Army I waited silently at home. My reticence about his situation was due to the public unpopularity of Australia’s involvement in South Vietnam. This sentiment was sometimes transferred from political objection to moral judgment of the military generally and consequently to individuals. I know this first hand as I was asked then what it felt like to be engaged to a murderer.

For the young men involved – many selected forcibly by the Government of the time through a lottery of birth, the alternative being gaol – their experiences in Vietnam were a bloody introduction to the inhumanities of mankind. Their salvation from the horrors was ‘home’, the people and country they loved.

While in Vietnam their minds were often focused on home and it was usual for our soldiers to publicly count the days until they returned. The expression was ‘x days and a wakey’. For 7RAR their ‘wakey’ was to be 25 April 1968. Aboard the HMAS Sydney many slept on deck the night before so that with the first light of dawn they would see their beloved country, the Heads at Sydney the gateposts to their haven.

Dawn revealed only the full circle of the ship’s wake. There was no land in sight.

This is Anzac Day, they were told, and the Returned Soldiers League (RSL) has prevented the ship from landing. It was proposed that the march through the city of the men returning from Vietnam would interrupt the day of glory for ‘real’ soldiers. Vietnam, they said, is not a real war.

Of course, the Vietnam conflict was never declared a war and the RSL used this point to formalise discriminatory policy. Just weeks after he returned from Vietnam I watched my brand new husband’s face turn ashen as he was told by an adolescent female receptionist that he was ineligible to join this organisation as he had not been to war.

And so there have been other unpalatable incidents over the years, both publicly from official organisations and privately from disgruntled individuals, that leave Vietnam veterans and their families alienated from the country they naively believed supported them. These lived experiences are a rich part of history. So are the statistics showing the burgeoning numbers of Vietnam veterans who continue to suicide.

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