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The 50th anniversary of Operation Overlord, including the Battle of Long Khanh commemorative service

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It is a great privilege for Linda and I to be here this morning at the 50th anniversary service and to remember the deeds of the 3rd Battalion and Members of the 1st ATF in this very significant battle in the history of the Australian Defence Force in the war in Vietnam.

This commemoration is an important occasion to remember and honour those who were killed serving our nation during Operation Overlord and the Battle of Long Khanh and to recognise all those who served during the Operation and, more broadly, in the Vietnam War.

And an opportunity for the post-Vietnam War generation to contextualise that service and consider how it informed the nation we were, the nation we became and the nation we want to be into the future.

During the Centenary of Anzac commemorative events we were reminded of the importance and value of remembering historic conflicts and operations.

Commemorative events and educational programs brought to life what may otherwise have been, for those without a direct, personal connection; black and white or grainy images from history books.

While individual events remembered and commemorated the battles of the First World War, it was an opportunity for the nation to consider the Anzac legacy, to try and define that legacy, and consider its meaning in a modern context.

Today has a similar purpose.

We have come to ascribe four words to the Anzac legacy: endurance, sacrifice, mateship and courage.

As we heard during the Call to Remembrance, those who served during Operation Overlord and at the Battle of Long Khanh demonstrated each of these – in a way that would make our forebears proud.

  • They endured over the course of an exhausting eight and a quarter hour battle.
  • They sacrificed: not only the 10 who were killed, and twenty-four injured but others who bore invisible scars for the years to come.
  • They demonstrated courage: disregarding their own safety in pursuit of the objective and in coming to the aid of their mates.
  • And mateship: they were there for each other during the battle and in the years that followed – evidenced by all of those with us here today.

Notwithstanding how evident they were in the actions of our soldiers and airmen 50 years ago, the concept of legacy and those four words – endurance, sacrifice, courage and mateship – are abstract in nature.

I believe that they, and the Anzac legacy, can be interpreted in the following manner:

  • That if you give us a job to do, we’ll do our darndest to get it done.
  • We’ll do it in a way that makes you proud.
  • While we’re doing it – and afterwards – we will look after our mates.

Again, through this lens, those who we are honouring today exemplify the Anzac legacy writ large.

I said during my recent Anzac Day address that the legacy was not etched into stone at Anzac Cove.

It may have begun there in 1915, but each generation, has inherited and built on the legacy.

Those who served during Operation Overlord and in Vietnam not only exemplified characteristics of the legacy, they built on it in a meaningful way.

They inherited the legacy from those that came before them.

From those who had served on the Malay Peninsula, in Korea and the in the Second World War.

From their forebears on the shores of Gallipoli and the Western Front.

They, in turn, built on that legacy and, in doing so, shaped the generations that followed.

My own military career was shaped by my instructors at the Royal Military College – Duntroon, many of who had served in Vietnam and many I served beside – Bob McEvoy for example.

I benefited, as did all of my classmates, from their hard earned expertise, their experience and their insight.

We benefitted from both their technical and tactical proficiency and from their wisdom and lessons on effective leadership. 

They helped us understand that, upon graduating, we would be in positions of leadership and responsible for leading men who had been tested under fire.

That we wouldn’t have all of the answers but, if we listened, absorbed and continued to learn from them that we could be effective leaders.

All who served during Vietnam passed the torch of the Anzac legacy onto the next generation in a very real and tangible way. They shaped the most modern generation of service men and women.

For that, and for their service in the interests of our country, they – you – should be forever proud.

In recognising that the Anzac legacy was not etched into stone at Anzac Cove, and that each generation of serving men and women has successfully built on it, we also recognise that some paid a heavy price.

We know that many veterans experienced difficulties as a result of their service.

We must support those who serve, those who have served and their families.

This is not something that Australia and Australians did well in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam.

We may not be able to rectify all of the wrongs of the past but we must try.

We do this through events like today’s. By remembering and honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and by recognising the impact of their sacrifice on their loved ones.

By acknowledging the importance of the service of so many during Vietnam.

And we do it by recognising that a generation of service personnel inherited, were custodians of and built on the Anzac legacy.

To the families of those no longer with us.

Know that our nation is and always will be grateful for their service.

To the veterans here today or watching from home – be proud of your service. We are all grateful.

To the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice:

Lest we forget.