Auckland War Memorial Museum commemorated the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War yesterday.
Three military services flags were hoisted: the New Zealand flag [representing the Army], the Royal New Zealand Navy flag and the Royal New Zealand Air Force flag.
Museum volunteer and Air Force veteran, Morris ‘Stoney’ Burke, said unlike the Navy and Air Force, the New Zealand Army doesn’t have an “actual flag”.
“The only overall covering flag for the Army personnel is the New Zealand flag. That’s why it’ll be the New Zealand flag [flying].”
At the time of the Vietnam War, New Zealand was in a military alliance with the United States and Australia, known as the ANZUS Pact.
Under the pact, if any of the countries was attacked, invaded or needed assistance in any way, the other two countries agreed to assist.
While the war officially started in 1955, New Zealand didn’t enter the conflict until 1965. August 18 was chosen as the date for New Zealanders to commemorate the lives lost due to the Vietnam War.
National vice president of the Returned and Services’ Association (RSA), Bob Hill, said: “It’s what we like to call ‘the Long Tan Day’, and that’s where the Australians had a big battle over there, and they were supported by [New Zealand’s] 161 Battery.”
Mr Hill said choosing the same day to commemorate New Zealand’s contribution was a “significant and important” step.
The veteran was in Vietnam at the time of the fall of Saigon, and said the anniversary is a time he reflects on the camaraderie among members of his company, and remembers those who were killed.
Fellow veteran Mr Burke said during the Vietnam War the New Zealand Air Force had played an important part by supplying planes, helicopters and pilots to the campaign.
“With transport aeroplanes, we supported the New Zealand troops in Vietnam, flying up there regularly and resupplying to all of the New Zealand companies there at the time,” he said.
Mr Hill, is also a trustee on the Viet Nam Veterans and their Families Trust.
He said the numbers affected by the war have grown to also include the later generations.
“Probably the most damning thing that came out of it for the Vietnam veterans is their exposure to a toxic environment,” he said.
The toxin he referred to is Agent Orange; a herbicide that was sprayed on Vietnamese crops as part of the US military’s warfare program.
“It will take seven generations for that to be, to go out of the genes. So, we’ll still get mutations caused by those toxins in our grandkids and great-grandchildren to come,” said Mr Hill.