In the early 1960’s the South Vietnamese government was beset with problems. It was under threat from a growing communist insurgency and sought assistance from the United States and her regional ally, Australia. This support for Vietnam was in keeping with the policies of many other nations, to stem the spread of communism in Europe and Asia, with the fear that if one country “fell” to communism then others would swifty follow – referred to as “the Domino effect”.
Australia initially responded with 30 military advisers. They arrived in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 and a proclamation, issued by the Governor-General on 11 Jan 1973, formally declared an end to Australia’s participation in the War. Australia’s military involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest in duration of any war in Australia’s history. From the time of the arrival of the first members of the Advisory Team almost 60,000 Australians, incuding ground troops and air force and navy personnel, served in Vietnam; 521 died as a result of the war and over 3,000 were wounded.
The war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. In 1964, two years after entering Vietnam, compulsory National Service was introduced. The scheme was based on a birthday ballot for 20-year-old- men who were to perform two years’ continuous full time service in the Regular Army Supplement, followed by three years’ part-time service in the Regular Army Reserve. The full-time service requirement was reduced to eighteen months in 1971.
Protesters and those refusing to register, or refusing to serve if called up were jailed. Public outrage intensified when, in May 1965, one year after the commencement of National Service the Australian Defence Act was amended to provide that National Servicemen could be obliged to serve overseas, a provision that had been applied only once before – during World War II. Lobby groups were set up to fight for its repeal as well as the removal of Australian troops from Vietnam. Organisations, such as “Save Our Sons”, held protests across the country and handed out anti- conscription leaflets. A major rally involving “Save Our Sons”, and other anti-war groups, was held when US President Lyndon B. Johnston visited Australia in 1966 with crowds of protestors chanting,
“LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
During that rally a now famous line was uttered when the driver of the car carrying Johnston and New South Wales Premier Askin asked what he should do as the crowd was blocking the road.
“Run over the bastards” was Askin’s response.
Conscription ended as one of the first acts of the newly elected Whitlam Labor Government in late 1972. About 63,735 National Servicemen served in the military from 1964-1972. Of that number, 19,450 served in Vietnam, all with the Army.
In 2002 National Servicemen, or “NASHOS” as they came to be known, were eventually recognised for their service with the “Australian Defence Medal”and the “Anniversary of National Service 1951-1972 Medal”.
I was a teenager throughout this turbulent period in Australia’s history. Furthermore, it was my brothers, their friends, their friends’ brothers, my schoolfriends, cousins, etc., who were threatened by the infamous “lottery” – of having their names “drawn” and being sent off to the horror that was the Vietnam War when little more than children. Some managed to dodge it, some were unlucky, some didn’t come back and some came back maimed in body, mind and spirit.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catherine Crout-Habel. Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family