Vietnam 1966-2016. Ceremonies and Memoirs. Part 1.

Fifty years marks a significant milestone for all sorts of events, wars especially. Last week I met an Australian man, a Vietnam vet, who had come to Ho Chi Minh City with his extended family to take part in the Long Tan ceremonies. The battle of Long Tan took place on August 18 1966, on a rubber plantation not far from Saigon. The outcome of that battle, in terms of deaths and injuries, included 18 Australian deaths, with 24 wounded and 250 – 800 Vietnamese deaths (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army) with 500-1000 wounded.

 “245 Vietnamese bodies were officially counted on the battlefield. However, this was only recorded as the official count due to a deadline set by the Australian government. Importantly, many more bodies were found over two weeks after the battle but the official death toll was never adjusted. “¹

The Vietnamese are also mourning their losses this month and this year: small ceremonies are taking place throughout the country from north to south, though these are not newsworthy in the eyes of the international press. Some are public and loud, important to instill a sense of history in the Vietnamese youth: others are quiet and respectful, as they should be, and take place in Buddhist pagodas or simply in front of a family’s ancestral shrine.

Buddhist Pagoda, Can Tho, Vietnam
Buddhist Pagoda, Can Tho, Vietnam

¹ http://battleoflongtan.com/facts-figures-battle-of-long-tan/

22 thoughts on “Vietnam 1966-2016. Ceremonies and Memoirs. Part 1.”

  1. You may not be aware of the events of the last 24 hrs, wherein the Vietnamese authorities cancelled the planned commemorations for Long Tan. There are over 1000 Australians who had travelled there to attend the ceremonies so the late cancellation was upsetting to them. What we are hearing is that the Australian PM got permission overnight for the Australians there to visit the site but not to wear any medals or uniforms. Obviously this is all still quite sensitive for those involved. Such is the legacy of war.

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    1. I am aware of these events over the last 24 hours, which prompted me to write this post. I would hate to see Long Tran turn into a Gallipoli event. The vets have always had access to the memorial site. The last minute plug pulling by the Vietnamese government may seem insensitive- but it depends on your perspective, as indicated subtly in my post.

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        1. I was working on a much longer post about my Vietnam memoirs of 50 years and then this issue came along, so am splitting the story into two. I wondered why the Vietnam Veteran I met had all his nephews etc coming along to the event. The Australians ( 2000) did hold a big ceremony, dinner with speeches etc, in a large hotel in Saigon. This event went ahead. The’ no flags, medals proviso’ was one that was negotiated over the last 18 months although one wonders. It seems to me that allowing 1000 Australians to gather at a war site on Vietnamese soil could be seen to be insensitive to the Vietnamese people, especially since one cannot guarantee how a mob might behave. Small groups, laying wreaths, seems to me far more appropriate than a patriotic en masse gathering.
          I appreciate your comments Ardys, as always. xx

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          1. After I read and commented this morning, I saw a later discussion panel on tv about the current events and the question was posed ‘How would Australians feel if someone from another country came here to remember a battle and lost lives if Australia was the losing side?’. The entire panel conceded that it would be a very difficult. I was pleased to see that compassion from the media, who sensationalises just about everything.

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  2. I guess the Vietnamese do not want trouble to be dragged up again and ill-feeling between Australians and North Vietnamese to revive by the gathering of medalled ex-soldiers en masse. It is unfortunate the tardy cancelling of the event and I can understand the anger felt by the Australian veterans. Some compromise had to be negotiated and I think that outcome is good.

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  3. Maybe not enough time has passed …i just feel for the Vets that have travelled to Vietnam. It has probably been an extraordinary strength that has got them there only to be slapped down again. Surely, the three years of planning for this moment would have explored many sensitivities …but sadly no ….i just hope the ones from both sides of this bloody mess do find peace, understanding and forgiveness

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    1. The last minute pulling of the plug on the planned event must have been extremely annoying for those vets and their extended families who came here for that commemoration. I think there is a great deal of understanding now on both sides but you can understand that commemorating an event on local soil where many Vietnamese soldiers were killed might be seen to be provocative whereas small groups laying a wreath at the site, not so.

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  4. I have mixed feeling about this. Commonsense tells me that the Vietnamese have every right to stop Aussies arriving en masse to glorify a battle that led to great loss of life of their people on their home soil, but I have a dear friend who is a veteran of the Vietnam war and that battle, called up because he was born on a doomed day. He only found peace of heart after returning to Vietnam 5yrs ago. He laid to rest his inner demons at that commemoration. He followed orders but his heart and soul were torn. I’m sure he’s not alone in carrying a lifetime of guilt from that day.

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    1. I also have a dear friend who went through the same turmoil. His return to Vietnam ( years ago) certainly helped him. That call up system was wrong and unjust and I do feel for the vets. But I also know deep down that Australians had no place in that war. I am in Vietnam now, and have become more aware than ever of the enormity of the crimes committed against this nation. Children are still born with birth defects as a consequence of the American dropping of dioxin on this nation. Given that, I think Aussies might be better off having small group gatherings in places of significance or on dates that are significant, rather than en mass gatherings.

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    1. The pagoda in the heading shot was taken in Can Tho, down on the Mekong Delta. we went down there for three day, and wish we stayed longer. Next time, if there is one, I would like to travel on the Mekong from Can Tho to Phnom Penn just to fill in the dots. Now we are back in HCMC and will walk around the city for tow more days…. no birdies in cages though.

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  5. Wonderful that you were there to observe. I’m not sure how I feel about gatherings of ex-soldiers on foreign soil and the potential of digging up old feelings of ill will. But, compromise is always the best solution – diplomacy some call it. Great post. Love the opening image – spiral incense at a shrine?

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  6. tôi là 1 người trẻ tuổi ở việt nam. Lích sử mà mọi người nhắc tới thất sự là lần đầu tiên tôi biết tới Long Tân. Cám ơn cô Francesc đã thấy được tác dụng của dioxin

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