RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

HOME AT LAST: CLOSE THE BRACELETS!

The Repatriation of
Flying Officer Mike Herbert and Pilot Officer Bob Carver

FLGOFF Mike Herbert (Pilot)PLTOFF Bob Carver (Navigator)2 Squadron RAAF Crest

The Vietnam Veterans National Museum President’s Address

BRACELET CLOSING CEREMONY
Vietnam Service Ribbons
The Vietnam Veterans National Museum
31 AUGUST 2009

Extract from the Address by Museum President
Gary B Parker

Good Morning. Distinguished guests, veterans, families of veterans, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. I also acknowledge and welcome the year 12 class from Fairhills High School.

This Museum was established to tell the story Australia’s longest war in an unbiased and non-political manner. It is to be a lasting legacy from Vietnam Veterans to be a resource for the education of future generations – and their presence in a scheduled tour as a part of their regular curriculum reinforces that that is happening.

That they are here on this historic occasion is fortuitous.

Another goal of the Museum was to be the Spiritual Home for all Vietnam Veterans and it is in this spirit that we are gathered here today.

As servicemen in Vietnam there were at least three things that we could be sure of when things started to get tough.

  • If we were killed, the Australian organisation of Legacy would look after our wives and families;
  • If we were wounded, we would get rapid medical attention with the aid of Australian and American Pilots; and
  • Wherever we were, we knew that we would not be abandoned by our mates. We would never be forgotten.

This creed was the same for our American brothers-in-arms. We were together then – and today, in spirit we are together again.

Today is a significant day in Australia’s military history. It is a day which should be celebrated by all Australians and which will certainly be acknowledged throughout America – and in particular by their servicemen and veterans.

From today all Australian servicemen exposed to Australia’s longest war are accounted for and have arrived home.

This simple ceremony is steeped in symbolism that has united Australia and America – and I need to expand on how that came to be.

The Flag displayed below, the POW MIA Flag with the words ‘You are not forgotten’ is known throughout America.

It is the only flag apart from the Stars and Stripes to ever fly over the White House, having been displayed in that place of honour on National POW/MIA Recognition Day 1982.

It is the only flag ever displayed in the US Capitol Rotunda where it stands as a powerful symbol of that Nation’s commitment to their POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting has been achieved for U.S. personnel still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Further, by an Act of Congress, that flag is to fly on six prescribed days of the year on all Federal buildings, installations, cemeteries and included all Post Offices.

Such is the acknowledgement of the flag as the symbol ‘of their Nations concern and commitment to end the uncertainty for their families and their Nation.’

In the mid 1990s, the ex President of the VVAA and the current Curator of this Museum, John Methven OAM, travelled to America to address their Vietnam Veterans Congress. He spoke on the Lifestyle Courses that he and the VVAA had initiated and which was being conduced by our Department of Veterans Affairs.

During that address, he advised the Congress of over 1,000 delegates from their sub-branches and chapters, that the VVAA had adopted the POW/MIA Flag and that it would always be displayed or flown at our Museum – it was only the Mobile Museum at the time – but on announcing this, he received a standing ovation from that Congress.

From that time, true to his word, the flag has always been flown or displayed. I undertake now to continue to do so.

About that time another group of Veterans went to America in part to witness “Rolling Thunder” – when thousands of veterans on (mainly) Harley Davidson Motorbikes joined the circuitous route through their nation to finish at The Wall in Washington on Remembrance Day. While there, by chance they met the designer of the Wall and also people from Ohio who made the Bracelets for each of their MIA servicemen.

A bracelet is made for each POW/MIA from the Vietnam War and has their name, rank and date of loss engraved on to the bracelet.

The bracelets are then worn by a family member or a veteran with a vow that it will not be removed until the day that the person’s real status is determined or that he returns home. They claim that taking that vow brings new lessons on old concepts: Unity. Caring. Brotherhood. When the wearer dies – the bracelet then goes with him.

They made six bracelets for the Australian missing servicemen and they were forwarded to the Museum for safe keeping. And here they are.

We never really believed that this day would ever come. The Museum Staff gathered in June 2007 and with a silent prayer and some awe as the Curator was able to close the bracelets to rest for Pte Peter Gillson and LCpl Richard Parker as they were returned to Australia.

In December 2007 we repeated the process for the return of LCpl John Gillespie and hardly dared believe that the last soldier who was with the Special Air Service Regiment would be located, recovered and returned.

On 10 October 2008, Pte David Fisher did return and his bracelet was closed to rest.

This left just the two airmen and it seemed too much to hope for that they could be returned and have us all present and correct. We under-estimated the endeavour of many people – Lt Col Jim Bourke and many others – and we will discuss them in more detail after this ceremony.

It is appropriate to acknowledge that while our own comrades were continuing the search, we would not have been able to succeed without the help of the people of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The closing of the bracelets today will coincide with the arrival of the aircraft at RAAF Richmond and the bodies of Pilot Officer Robert Carver and Flying Officer Michael Herbert being on Australian soil. We trust that this ceremony will symbolically leave these six returned servicemen at rest in this the spiritual home of Vietnam Veterans.

The closure of the cases will assist many with the closure of one aspect of Australia’s longest war. We will continue to ‘Honour the dead – and fight like hell for the living.’ There is still much to do.

Finally we pray that this sense of closure will assist relieve the families that have grieved for so long and also to those servicemen who had worked and trained with these men.

Thank you.