August 20, 2013
The RSL movement has always been about the welfare of war veterans, even if that purpose was temporarily forgotten in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. That was the message that Victoria Cross winner Keith Payne OAM gave to the assembled audience at this year’s Vietnam Veterans’ Day service in Kingaroy.
Mr Payne – who was awarded the VC for his actions in Vietnam in May 1969 and an Order of Australia Medal in 2006 for his support for youth programs and veterans’ groups – was the special guest speaker at the commemoration in Memorial Park on Sunday.
He traced the history of the RSL movement from its foundation in the aftermath of World War I through to World War II, then on to the divisive Vietnam War when many veterans found themselves isolated and alone.
Mr Payne said it took many years for Vietnam veterans to gain the same recognition from the RSL movement, the government and the community that veterans from other wars received.
In fact, it took until October 3, 1987 – 15 years after the last soldiers and national servicemen left Vietnam – for an official “Welcome Home” parade to be held.
And it took a further five years for the Federal Government to accept research that defoliants such as Agent Orange had disastrous health effects on Vietnam veterans and that post-traumatic stress disorder had caused significant health problems too.
But he said there had now been a rapprochement between the RSL movement, Vietnam veterans, the government and the community, and he hoped this dark period in Australia’s military history would help ensure that future veterans were unlikely to suffer in the same way.
Mr Payne’s speech was warmly received by an audience of about 100 veterans and family members who attended the morning service.
The Kingaroy-Memerambi Sub-Branch of the RSL presented Mr Payne with a framed copy of a poem “Keith Payne VC OAM” which was written especially for the occasion by well-known Australian war poet Bill Charlton.
Two more of Mr Charlton’s poems, “A Trilogy In Conflict” and “Long Tan” were also recited during the service by students from Kingaroy State High School and St Mary’s Catholic College.