30 years later, an apology to Vietnam vets
Vietnam veterans, due to receive an apology from the Crown tomorrow, have been waiting more than 30 years.
The apology, to be made by Prime Minister Helen Clark in Parliament, will acknowledge veterans were not treated fairly when they returned to New Zealand from the war.
Veterans have for years fought for recognition of the suffering experienced by soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals used during the war, such as agent orange.
Many veterans found the people of New Zealand had little time for them after they returned from serving in the largely unpopular and controversial war.
Tomorrow's apology will precede three days of commemorations for the Vietnam veterans, beginning with a civic welcome in Wellington's Civic Square at 4pm on Friday.
Long in the planning, the commemorative weekend "Tribute08" is the public face of a memorandum of understanding signed in December 2006 by the Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.
In the memorandum, the Government acknowledged Vietnam veterans and their families had legitimate concerns about their treatment over the past 30 years.
A $30 million package aimed at compensating veterans and their families affected by chemical warfare used during the Vietnam War, including the use of agent orange, was announced last year.
Official events over Queen's Birthday weekend include an honour march to Parliament on Saturday morning; a whakanoa, or tapu-lifting, ceremony to acknowledge the 37 New Zealanders who died in Vietnam; a memorial service at the National War Memorial on Sunday and a commemoration event at the Basin Reserve.
A concert will be held on Saturday night, and public exhibitions and displays will be held at various venues throughout Wellington.
A total of 2,500, including veterans, their families and supporters, are expected to attend the weekend's events, some of which are also expected to attract members of the public.
One veteran will be in attendance with 12 family members, arriving from as far away as Sweden.
Pete Ramsay was with Victor 4 Company in Vietnam. Six of the company's men were killed in action and 14 were wounded.
Mr Ramsay is now based in Western Australia, but is the New Zealand Ex-Vietnam Services Association representative for the Australian state.
He said it was "critical" veterans attended the commemorations, and bring their families along.
"I know it can be a job to organise it but it's well worth it. Families talk to other families, wives talk to wives. If doing that helps one family out in some way, to understand Dad, then that's great."
Mr Ramsay said he was looking forward to catching up with old friends at designated sub-unit watering holes around Wellington.
He said the discussions were unlikely to be about what happened in Vietnam.
"We all know what we went through over there, and we don't need to talk about it to each other. We're over that. We talk about the silly and humorous things that happened, and there were plenty of those."
Mr Ramsay said the memorandum would have a lasting impact on veterans, and not just those from Vietnam.
"...it's also for other veterans, especially the younger ones so they've got some sort of support mechanism to fall back on if they need it.
"We don't want younger veterans to be treated the way we were treated by veterans of previous wars, or forgotten like the Korean veterans."
Ex-Vietnam Services Association spokesman Chris Mullane said veterans and their supporters needed to attend Tribute08 to ensure their concerns continued to be addressed.
"The Government and the public of New Zealand need to see our participation as a tangible demonstration of the determination and credibility of the Vietnam veteran community," he said.
WAGING WAR AMONG TOXIC HERBICIDES
A total of 3890 New Zealand soldiers served in South Vietnam. Thirty-seven were killed in action and 187 were wounded.
- New Zealand's longest-serving combat unit in the war was 161 Battery, Royal NZ Artillery, which served from June 1965 to May 1971.
- From 1961 to 1971, US and South Vietnamese armies sprayed millions of litres of toxic herbicides to destroy forest cover and food for communist forces.
- Herbicides used in the Operation Ranch Hand defoliation were identified by coloured stripes on containers: agent orange was the most widely used.
- Veterans overseas have since blamed the spray for health problems such as diabetes and prostate cancer in former soldiers, and birth defects in their children.
- After years of successive governments denying New Zealand soldiers were affected by agent orange, a parliamentary health select committee inquiry concluded in October 2004 that it was "beyond doubt" that New Zealand defence personnel were exposed to agent orange and other herbicides.
- The inquiry followed the publication of the John Masters map which revealed heavy American spraying of agent orange and other defoliants in Phuoc Tuy province, where most New Zealand soldiers spent much of their time in Vietnam.
TIMETABLE OF EVENTS
May 28 - Parliament: Prime Minister Helen Clark to read Crown apology to veterans in Parliament.
4pm Civic welcome in Civic Square.
10am Honour march from Civic Square to Parliament.
11am Whakanoa, or tapu-lifting ceremony, to be held outside Parliament.
1.30pm Ex-Vietnam Services Association Annual General Meeting.
8pm Tribute Concert, TSB Arena, Queen's Wharf.
9.30am Memorial Service, to be held at National War Memorial, Buckle Street.
10.30am The Commemoration, Basin Reserve.
Footage of events will be screened on TVNZ 7 (on freeview) over the weekend, live streamed on www.tribute08.com and highlights will be screened on TV One at 12.30pm on June 2.
May 21-June 1 Theatre season of Ka Mate, at Capital E Theatre, Civic Square.
May 29-June 8 The Vietnam Exhibition, at the Academy of Fine Arts, Queen's Wharf.