History repeats as rain soaks Vietnam solidiers

Vietnam veterans weathered the elements at the Shrine of Remembrance, joking that at least it wasn't gunfire.
Vietnam veterans weathered the elements at the Shrine of Remembrance, joking that at least it wasn't gunfire.

Heavy rain cleared at the last minute for a historic Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration at the Shrine of Remembrance.

The commemoration marked the 50th-anniversary of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war, with the first contingent of the Australian Army Training Team arriving in South Vietnam on August 3, 1962.

The commemoration also marked the 46th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, where 100 Australians successfully defended themselves from an enemy force estimated at 2500.

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and family members attended the ceremony, which had threatened to be spoiled by heavy rain. The rain cleared just before speeches began at 11.50am.

Master of Ceremonies and former soldier George Logan joked at the start that "it's not the most comfortable thing standing in the rain today but at least no-one's shooting at you".

Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia Victoria State President, Bob Elworthy, told the crowd that "history says it rained on the first Long Tan day. The only difference was it was 28 degrees".

In addition to the speeches — including one from Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu — dozens of floral wreaths were laid before the eternal flame, including one by the Governor of Victoria, Alex Chernov. Australian Army Band Melbourne members performed the Last Post, the Rouse and the national anthem, while Chaplain John Brownhill led prayers.

Other dignitaries who laid wreaths included State Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, Federal MP Kelvin Thompson and Australian Senator Michael Ronaldson.

Barry Toohill, of Echuca, fought in 161 New Zealand Battery alongside Australian soldiers. He described the commemoration as "meaningful".

"You do it for the mates you lost," he said. "I was there for the Tet Offensive in 1968. The radio operator got killed beside me."

Mr Baillieu said that 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, 500 of whom were killed and 3000 wounded. "Thousands were changed forever," he said. "Countless Australians continue to feel the ricochet of (that) war today.

"It's important we remember every one of our vets ... their extraordinary qualities and unassailable spirit.

"As you close your eyes today you may well picture the warm weeping jungles of Vietnam. Or you may feel the cold weeping winds of this winter," said Mr Baillieu.

"Your tears may never dry but you will have the support of the Victorian and Australian community."

Mr Baillieu said it was crucial for those too young to serve in Vietnam to remember and honour Vietnam veterans.

"Thankyou for what you have done for this state, this country and your community. We honour you all. We thank you very much," he said.

This story History repeats as rain soaks Vietnam solidiers first appeared on The Age.