On Active Service

A Letter to Uncle John

Circa 1992

"Son as you know, I served in New Guinea during WW2. When we returned we just got on with it.  What is this Vietnam Veterans' Association all about?  Many of the men I served with had the right to wear two, or even three campaign medals. Why separate yourselves from the established Leagues and Associations ... What is all the noise about?!"

The inquiry above was made to me at a family gathering in the early 1990’s. I immediately felt the inference in the question was once again ― that when compared to WW2 the 'V War' was not a real War. I have always been a little too ‘quick to get up’ so I decided rather than answer him in the moment quoting bomb tonnage statistics, or comparing hours exposed to tactical combat conditions etc, knowing this would have led, as it had in the past since my return, to more unpleasantness. And given I had a great deal of respect, admiration and fondness for this man ― my father’s brother, I controlled the sudden seething sense of injustice that was always close to the surface in me at the time, and answered that I would give the matter some thought, and write to him.

Dear Uncle John

I do not doubt the pride you feel, for the achievements of yourself and your fellow Veterans in WW2, and that the campaign medals you mentioned are worn with pride, and are more than justifiably deserved. But I would not trade places with any other, because it is not these outward symbols of service that my own personal pride stems from, it is simply the memory of the quality of the men I served with. Honour was, and still is important to these men. I never met a thief or a coward in the 5th Battalion; they were simply the bravest men I have ever known. Though I worked in a large organisation for 30 years after my return and discharge with over 1300 employees, I met few in this time that could reach their standard. My bond with these men of the Regiment, as I have said in something I wrote to you before, has something to do with absolute trust.

More so than in other Wars, those who fought ‘outside the wire’ in the Vietnam War simply had to trust their lives to each other and this would often happen on a daily basis. They could not trust the very ground they walked on, or literally anyone who carried or flung a weapon outside of their own group's perimeter. Mateship thus tested makes a bond for life that cannot be broken by any lesser experience.

The contempt and scorn experienced both before and after their return, from the general population, in particular the unions ― many of whose members were veterans of WW2  from whom they could reasonably have expected some sympathy.

Students from the ‘intellectual left', along with journalists with more interest in sensationalism and their own career paths, than an honest representation of the War’s events, all claimed us as fools at best, and baby killers at worst.

Those of us who argued our cause were branded ignorant, conned or politically naive. It was a great injustice; it served to make the Veterans of the Regiment seek an even closer bond. This, along with an ill judged rejection, from those said same established Leagues and Associations, has led directly to the formation of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association. So what you are hearing, is the noise that follows finding ― 'Our Own Official Voice for Justice'.

Yours Respectfully,


© By Bob Cavill
C Company &
Assault Pioneers

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