Karuah RSL Sub-Branch members talk about the long lasting effects of being sent to fight in the Vietnam War

HONOURING THEIR SERVICE: Vietnam War veterans and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch members Mick Young and Peter Fidden at Memorial Park. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
HONOURING THEIR SERVICE: Vietnam War veterans and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch members Mick Young and Peter Fidden at Memorial Park. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Mick Young and Peter Fidden had different experiences during the Vietnam War but their stories, like many Australian men who were conscripted into national service at the time, become almost the same after they returned home.

The pair were flown back to Australia under the cover of darkness to avoid Vietnam War protesters.

Once home and discharged, while trying to come to grips with the effects of war and easing back into 'normal' lives, they were subject to verbal abuse on the streets by war protesters.

When years later they joined RSL clubs, where memberships were made up with men who fought in the World Wars, they were told they were not welcome.

"And they wondered why we developed an attitude," Vietnam War veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch president Peter Fidden said.

Vietnam War veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch president Peter Fidden. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Vietnam War veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch president Peter Fidden. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Mr Young, a member of the Karuah RSL Sub-Branch, was part of one of the first intakes of the National Service Scheme, which was introduced by the Menzies Government in 1964.

He was called up to service in 1965. He did three months at Puckapunyal.

At that stage, he had a truck licence and was allocated to the 103rd Battery Royal Australian Artillery.

Six months after marrying his wife, Millie, Mr Young left for Vietnam. It was April 22, 1966. He returned to Australian in May 1967.

Vietnam War veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch member Mick Young. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Vietnam War veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch member Mick Young. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

As Anzac Cove became one of the well-known battle sites during World War I, so has Long Tan in the Vietnam War. The battle of Long Tan occurred on the afternoon of August 18, 1966, just two months after the 1st Australian Force established its base at Nui Dat in South Vietnam.

The bravery, tenacity and sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Long Tan became legendary and also came to symbolise Australia's 10-year involvement in the war.

Mr Young was part of the Long Tan battle. His battery, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in pouring rain and mud about 4 kilometres out of Long Tan, provided artillery support to troops on the ground, firing consistently for four hours.

Mr Fidden was in Vietnam from December 1968 to December 1969, part of B Squadron 3rd Cavalry. He had been doing an automotive engineering apprenticeship when he was called up for service.

Peter Fidden's medals.

Peter Fidden's medals.

"I was called up not long after Mick was. They deferred me but the day I finished my apprenticeship they called me," Mr Fidden said.

"I thought 'this is a good adventure. I won't mind this' until I got in there and found out what it was really like. But I still enjoyed it. I'm glad I did it. I think I grew up a hell of a lot."

Mr Fidden said he spent a lot of his time in Vietnam "doing patrols, moving people around".

"Our main task was to move the infantry around but most of the time they went by helicopter and we acted as armoured protection for them," he said.

After returning home Mr Young and Mr Fidden joined their local RSLs. It did not last long.

Mick Young's medals.

Mick Young's medals.

"When I first joined the RSL they said 'we've got to let you in but you really shouldn't be in the RSL because you weren't in the real war'," Mr Fidden said.

"I walked out of the RSL in Lithgow in 1970 and I never joined another RSL until 2000. Attitudes had changed a lot by then."

Mr Fidden has been president of the Karuah sub-branch for 10 years.

When asked how it felt to see attitudes change towards those who fought in Vietnam, and see so many people turn out to Vietnam Veterans Day services, Mr Young said it made him feel proud, albeit it being "a bit late".

"But you can't keep holding a grudge," he said.

Mick Young and Peter Fidden at Karuah's war memorial, in Memorial Park. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Mick Young and Peter Fidden at Karuah's war memorial, in Memorial Park. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Vietnam Veterans Day services will be staged in Karuah, Medowie and Nelson Bay on Sunday, August 18.

Karuah's service will be held in Memorial Park and Nelson Bay's in Apex Park from 11am. Medowie will get underway in Lions Park at 10.30am.

Since 1987, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke declared August 18 to be Vietnam Veterans Day, the anniversary has commemorated all Australians who took part in the conflict.

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