It’s leading up to Anzac day. Always a big deal in my family. My dad fought in Vietnam and still, to this day, embraces it as the experience of his lifetime. His stories have been the basis for many of my morals and values, and his passion is inspiring. He single-handedly releases a newsletter several times a year, printing stories and pictures from the war for veterans who were in his unit (The Tunnel Rats) giving them something positive to look back on and remember. He organizes regular reunion “boys’ trips” to Vietnam, where literally about a hundred veterans, and sometimes their sons, head to Vietnam to revisit places where they fought, where they drank, where they ate and to hold a memorial for the friends they lost along the way. He regularly visits military bases around Australia to make speeches to the younger generation of Australian soldiers (“They’re much more fit and don’t drink as much as we did.” is a common remark I hear from him). This year, the Herald Sun published a touching piece by the old man about camaraderie and what it’s really like to be a soldier. Thought I would share it with everyone…Enjoy :)
AS you read this, there are young Australian troops putting on the paraphernalia of war in the Middle East and moving out on operations to risk their lives on our behalf.
And right now their families sit at home in the cities, suburbs and country towns of Australia trying not to think about the unthinkable and that fateful knock on the door.
For centuries wars have generated these scenarios of bright-eyed, brave young soldiers doing their job, while their families juggle the conflicting emotions of pride and fear. Anzac Day enables those who served, and the families and friends who waited for them, to remember and respect our war veterans, particularly those who paid the supreme sacrifice and lost their lives for us.
Incongruously, but perhaps inevitably, the anti-war movement surfaces at this time each year to have its say. When the majority of Australians are embracing the Anzac spirit, the anti-war activists cast out carefully crafted phrases that spit in the face of those who lost loved ones and mates in wars gone by.
Nobody wants or loves war, particularly soldiers, past and present, and “Anti War” has an admirable ring to it; but it’s a decidedly hollow ring in the face of the real world. If we all decided to join the peace movement and sit safely in Utopia tinkling peace bells, who’s going to help fight the next despot or rogue nation to threaten the free world? Are the terror tactics of Saddam and bin Laden and their ilk not enough to remind us of how fragile our democracy can be? Are our memories so short we forget how Germany engulfed the world in conflict, and how Japan had conquered all of Asia and much of the Pacific, and was actually bombing Australia?
Anti-war activists should take a sobering walk through the Australian, American, British and other Allied military cemeteries peppered throughout Asia. Perhaps those tens of thousands of white crosses will remind them that, if not for those brave young men during World War II, we’d be living in a very different Australia today.
Anti-war advocates see flag-waving, patriotism and nationalism as the driving forces behind men reaching the extraordinary stage where they risk death and injury in combat. Their theories miss the point.
Those who serve in a combat role quickly realise they are fighting for the small group of men they work most closely with. Usually it’s from 10 to 30 men - a section, or platoon, in military parlance. All of that boisterous ordering to carry out seemingly senseless acts in rookie training is actually to bring troops to the point where they obey orders without question, not as robots, but as good soldiers.
It’s a process known as contact drills, where in the brutality of war, at the moment of coming under fire, these men are expected to do the impossible. In those initial seconds, instead of seeking shelter or fleeing, they must turn and face the enemy, move towards them under fire and return that fire. Whichever side wins the initiative in these mad moments survives and the other side falls in a heap, literally.
It’s a situation where each man is fighting to save his mates and himself, and in the typical small unit warfare of today, he’ll do this many times over during his tour of duty. The training for this and the shared traumatic experience of actually carrying it out create a bond among these men that is never broken. Ever.
That bond and those experiences are behind the heart-wrenching tears you see from grown men at military reunions. The phrase “no greater love hath man than to lay his life down for another” may sound empty and apparently unbelievable to the anti-war set, but in the awful, beautiful reality of war it happens.
All soldiers who serve in combat roles where fate plays with them with such finality took an earlier decision to say “yes” rather than “no”, when their country called.We need to remember that the peace and freedoms we enjoy today are a direct result of the sacrifices made by all of the men and women in the history of our nation who have said “yes” to military service at times of conflict.
“For those who fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.”
That’s my dad :)