Young veterans stepping up
Monday, 11th March, 2013
By Craig Brealey
Australia's most recent winner of the Victoria Cross has put out a call to younger war veterans like himself to get more involved in the Anzac Day commemorations.
Anzac Day marches were not just for elderly war veterans, said Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith (34) who was awarded the VC for his valour while
serving with the Special Air Services Regiment in Afghanistan in 2010.
But Broken Hill was ahead of the game in that regard, according to the President of the local RSL, Chris Bowden. Vietnam War veterans were now a strong presence at the Anzac services in the city and the public attendance had grown, particularly among young people, Mr Bowden said.
"We had a record last year," he said. "There were 3,000 people at the 11 o'clock service and quite a few at the dawn service.
"The RSL gets great support from the Vietnam veterans in Broken Hill who have their own club, and we are also supported by Legacy."
"We have heaps of young people and Vietnam War veterans. I am a Vietnam veteran myself. I served 12 years in the Army and did 12 months in Vietnam."
Mr Bowden said Anzac Day was popularly associated with the diggers of World War One but it had long been a day to commemorate the service of all war veterans.
"The day is dedicated not just to the First World War and Gallipoli, but to all wars," he said.
There were a couple of Broken Hill boys serving overseas at the moment, Mr Bowden said.
He said, and the veterans of today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were better treated by the Department of Veterans' Affairs than were those of
previous generations and received more help for the mental trauma they may have suffered.
Mr Bowden spoke to the BDT from the Dawe Park Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide where he is having a knee replacement.
"I'm getting a new knee, so I hope I'll be ready for the march," he said.
Corporal Roberts-Smith has joined the Australian War Memorial as an ambassador for Anzac Day with a particular focus on getting young veterans
and serving personnel to join the commemorations.
He will lead by example by marching in Canberra.
"They've got to be proud of what they've achieved as we have been proud of all of our predecessors," he said.
Memorial director Brendan Nelson says while young servicemen and women attend Anzac Day services, especially dawn services, their participation in marches is "patchy".
"I think that there is a perception amongst the younger veterans that maybe the Anzac Day march is for an earlier generation of veterans," he said.
"The RSL certainly doesn't have that attitude and nor certainly do I think the leaders amongst the contemporary soldiers."
Dr Nelson wants the memorial to have an exhibition telling the stories of the modern wars the Middle East open by the end of the year.
"It's critically important for the veterans and those who are still serving that they know their story is being told in here today," he said.
"Just maybe if we had presented the Vietnam story a little sooner than we had, those men might not have suffered quite as much as they have."