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50th Anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe and the Battle of Nui Le, Commemorative Service [virtual event]

Good morning.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

It is a privilege for me, and Linda who is here but off camera, to be with you on this significant occasion.

Significant for those who served on Operation Ivanhoe, the last major offensive of the Vietnam War, and in the Battle of Nui Le.

Significant for their loved ones, and the loved ones of those who are no longer with us.

And significant for our nation.

While it has been 50 years since Australians fought their last battles in Vietnam, our appreciation, respect and pride in those that served in that conflict has not diminished.

The 50th anniversary commemorations of various operations or battles over the last several years have provided a focal point for us to recognise those that served in Vietnam.

A way to continue to correct the mistake in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam when those who served may not have felt their nation’s gratitude.

And an opportunity to contextualise the uniqueness of their service into the Anzac legacy and the subsequent generations who have carried it forward.

These commemorations have helped raise awareness and increase our understanding of events that have long since passed and, for younger generations, made the bravery, service and sacrifice of those who did as their country asked all the more real.

To all watching today who served in Vietnam, know that we will continue to remember and value the contribution you made in the service of our nation.

The last battles fought by Australians in Vietnam occurred on Operation Ivanhoe. Intelligence reports had alerted 4RAR/NZ to the presence of North Vietnamese Army troops in northern Phuoc Tuy. The Battalion engaged the troops and became involved in heavy fighting. Although it sustained comparatively high casualties during the engagements, 4RAR/NZ was successful in hindering NVA attempts to move further south.

In reflecting on the battles, I considered, as I often do, the four words we ascribe to the Anzac legacy: endurance, sacrifice, mateship and courage.

The Anzac legacy was writ large in the former Phuoc Tuy province on 21 September 1971.

  • Our troops endured over the course of a 14-hour battle.
  • They sacrificed – five Australians lost their lives that day; six in total on Operation Ivanhoe.
  • They showed courage – none more so than when Delta Company and New Zealand’s Victor Company returned to the bunkers to retrieve the bodies of three Australians killed two days earlier.
  • And, they demonstrated mateship – our soldiers were there for each other in Vietnam, they were there for each other in the immediate aftermath and in the ensuing years, and they are here for each other today, participating online in this commemorative service.

To all who served on Operation Ivanhoe and in the Battle of Nui Le, be proud of your service. You built on the Anzac legacy and, in doing so, helped shape the generations of service men and women who followed.

My own military career was shaped by those who had served in Vietnam: instructors at the Royal Military College and those I went on to serve beside. Indeed my paths crossed with Gary McKay and Bob Sayce over a number of years. They helped us to understand that, upon graduating, we would be responsible for a group of soldiers, quite possibly in life and death situations.

That legacy – shaping the next generation of service men and women – is also something that Vietnam Veterans deserve credit for and should be proud of.

In thanking our Vietnam Veterans, we also recognise that for some their service came at a heavy price. We also know that, similarly, for veterans who served in Afghanistan, recent events may have triggered distress and anxiety. My advice to all veterans struggling with their mental health is to seek help. Our nation is indebted to you. Your welfare is important and it is incumbent on us to ensure that help is available to you and your families.

As Governor-General and as Commander-in-Chief, I thank all current and former ADF members for their service and contribution.

But, today, at this Commemorative Service to mark the 50th Anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe and the Battle of Nui Le, we thank those Australians who served in Vietnam in September 1971 and we remember and honour the six men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

Lest we forget.