A wounded soldier is carefully unloaded from an RAAF Iroquois helicopter at the 8th Field Ambulance, Nui Dat in August 1967. Australian War Memorial VN67010420
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Between August 1962 and May 1975 nearly 60,000 Australian men and women including navy, army and air force personnel served in the Vietnam War. Of that number, 523 died and more than 3,000 were evacuated with wounds, injuries or illnesses in what ranks alongside Afghanistan as one of the longest operational commitments in Australian military history. A small number of Australian service personnel continued to serve in Vietnam as Embassy guards after 1972 and in 1975 the Royal Australian Air Force was involved in evacuating civilians and Australian diplomats during the war's final days.
The Vietnam War, in essence, was a conflict between North and South Vietnam. It had wider implications because the North had a communist government. The United States of America and her allies, including Australia, saw the conflict as a key part of the Cold War by preventing the spread of communism in South East Asia; North Vietnam, however, saw their opponents as simply a replacement of their French colonial masters who were preventing the country's unification.
In the early years, Australia's participation in the Vietnam war was not widely opposed. But as the commitment grew, as conscripts began to make up a large percentage of those being deployed and killed, and as the public increasingly came to believe that the war was being lost, opposition grew. The fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in April 1975 brought an end to the war, which by then had spilled over into neighbouring Cambodia and Laos. Millions lost their lives, millions more were made refugees. On 3 October 1987, Australia's Vietnam veterans were honoured with a formal Welcome Home March in Sydney. In that year, Long Tan Day (18 August) became known as Vietnam Veterans Day, and it continues to be observed as a day of remembrance. Five years later, on 3 October 1992, a dedication ceremony took place for the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial, which formally commemorates the sacrifices of all Australians who served in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War saw significant advancements in battlefield medicine. In the Second World War, a soldier had an 85% chance of survival if they were treated by a medic within the first hour of being wounded, compared with an estimated 28% in the First World War. The Korean War saw the first large scale use of helicopters to evacuate men from the front lines for treatment at M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units. In Vietnam, the medic's job aboard ‘Dust-off' helicopters was both to treat the wounded and accompany them back to a field hospital. Soldiers evacuated within the first hour of being wounded in Vietnam had a 98% survival rate. Medics were armed for the first time in the Vietnam War. In addition to their medical kits, they carried semi-automatic rifles, grenades, and other weapons. Red crosses on helmets and arm bands were no longer worn, to prevent them being a visible target for enemy snipers.
- Department of Veterans' Affairs, Australia and the Vietnam War, 2007.
- Chris Coulthard-Clark, The RAAF in Vietnam: Australian Air Involvement in the Vietnam War 1962–1975, 1995.
- Bruce Davies, Vietnam: The Complete Story of the Australian War, 2012.
- Jeffrey Grey, Up Top: The Royal Australian Navy in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1955–1972 , 1995.
- Paul Ham, Vietnam: The Australian War, 2007.
- Ian McNeill, To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950–1966, 1993.
- Brendan G. O'Keefe and F.B. Smith, Medicine at War: Medical aspects of Australia's involvement in Southeast Asia 1950–1972, 1994.