Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A POWERFUL MESSAGE FOR ANZAC DAY

Some of you will be aware I am associated with a Trust that provides financial assistance to the children & grandchildren of New Zealand Vietnam veterans.   We've been doing that for twenty-five years and to mark the occasion we decided to run an essay competition on the subject 'What my father's/grandfather's involvement in the Vietnam war has meant to me and my family'.      The competition was well supported with a large number of quality entries.  

The independent judging panel had their work cut out ... some of their comments ... "All the essays were very personal and it was both a privilege and a trial to read such very heartfelt personal histories.  The privilege in being so trusted with the essays and the trial in having to choose between them" ... and another "The trauma the children and grandchildren have faced and yet largely come out the end pretty well balanced or managing their anger is remarkable".

The two winners, one in each division, were announced yesterday.   They will be receiving their prizes ($1,000 each) in ceremonies at Parliament and Mt Maunganui shortly.    A selection of the essays received will feature on the Trust's website in due course and copies of the two winning essays are being sent to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for inclusion in their Vietnam archive.

In the lead up to ANZAC day it is appropriate I share with you the winning entry from the children's division.    It's a powerful story and serves to demonstrate that on ANZAC Day we should also remember the effect that conflict had on the families of those that served.    I'm pretty hardened  but the bit about going to bed with a bible under her pillow as protection against her father really got to me.

Awhi is happy for her story to be told ......

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I loved my dad, even though he was hard to live with. Even to this day I never knew if that was who he had always been or if the Vietnam war had had such a profound effect on him that he’d changed forever. My mum told me that his sister had referred to him as a gentle giant before he’d gone to war. A giant he was, gentle I’m not so sure about. 

A soft side would show through every now and then, but I mostly saw his hard exterior. He was a big, strong Maori man from the East Coast, with huge hands and an authority about him that no one messed with. He was a man of few words and as a kid, I was scared of him. 

Mum and dad met not long after dad returned from Vietnam. Mum was also in the army and was introduced to dad through his sister Rebecca. I came along not long after and was born in Christchurch in 1970. We lived there until I was 4 then we moved to Singapore for 2 years. I remember a few things from that time, but mostly what involved me rather than dad. We moved back to NZ in 1977 to Waiouru and stayed there for 3 years until dad was posted to Tokoroa. He eventually retired from the army after 20 years while at that posting but continued in the territorial force for a few more years. 

I arrived in Waiouru when I was 7 and we left when I was 10. I have lots of memories of my life in Waiouru. Many of them are great and I still talk about them to this day. School, the snow, climbing trees and riding horses at the local pony club. Other memories are not so good and up until recently the events that took place were part of defining who I became as an adult. These are memories of dad, a man who I remember as always being drunk. Like I said at the beginning, he was a big man and a big drunk man is a very scary person to a little child. There were moments that I feared for my family’s safety and on one occasion my brother and I were taken to the neighbour's house so we weren’t exposed to what was going on. I heard arguments and yelling at other houses, so I knew we weren’t the only family where this happened. 

Like I said, my dad was big, Maori and scary, so in my child’s mind I categorised all Maori men to be this way. I distinctly remember not wanting to have anything to do with Maori if this was what they were like. Even to write this down makes me feel deeply ashamed because as an adult,  I am immensely proud of my culture and who I am. However, the forum I am writing this for and the effect of the Vietnam war on my family, I believe this was the start of it for me. 

 After we moved to Tokoroa, this way of life continued. Dad drunk many nights, arguments, yelling and knots in my stomach continuously. I slept with a bible under my pillow because in some small way, I felt like this would keep me safe. When I turned 15, I decided I no longer wanted to live under his roof, so I left school, left home and started working. This was tough on my mum and when I was 16, my parents separated. The life with my dad had been hard enough for me, I can't imagine how tough it had been for my mother. 

When I was 19, I moved to Australia and this is when my relationship with my dad started to improve. He visited me a couple of times and I got to know a little about who he actually was. He was more than the big, scary man I had grown up with. He was intelligent, he cared and I realised he worried about me. When my first child was born, my dad surprised me totally when he started singing nursery rhymes to her. I had no idea he even knew what a nursery rhyme was. Like I said previously, he was a man of few words so he never really talked to us much. I had two more children and dad spent time with them, teaching them games and playing with them in the back yard. This is the soft side of dad that we never experienced growing up as his children. 

Between my first and second child, I had 3 miscarriages. Dad made comments about it being his fault, he thought that maybe the effect of Agent Orange had transferred through to me and this is what caused me to have the miscarriages. Through investigation, it was found I have antiphospholipid syndrome which can be caused by an autoimmune disorder. We will never know if this was in any way linked to Vietnam however, no one else in my family has this syndrome. 

This was the first time we had heard dad talk about Vietnam. Throughout the following years, dad would make random comments during conversations that had nothing to do with Vietnam. It would catch us by surprise and often we asked him to repeat what he said, but he never really did. In the end, we learnt to tune in to when he would go off on another track of thought and voice it out loud. The comment that stands out to me the most was - ‘it was either Charlie or me, and I chose me’.

When Dad was in his 60’s he asked me to write down what life was like for us kids. He wondered if he had PTSD from Vietnam after he had seen a video on the subject.  At the bottom of this essay is the letter I wrote for him back then. I'm not sure if he had any counselling for this but he decided for his 65th birthday that he would invite all the men that had served with him in his section, so they could share their stories with us, and that we would have a better understanding of what had happened. 

This ended up being a time of healing, laughter, tears by all and a connection to the men that dad had served with all those years ago. They told us their memories and stories of dad and who and what he had been to them back in those days. It was then that we realised that our dad held a lot of mana with these men. We were seeing our dad in a different light and an understanding started to develop for the reason he spent so many nights drunk when we were kids. I think he just wanted to block out all the thoughts that were going through his mind. 

When dad was 70 years old, he was diagnosed with larynx cancer. My mother, brother and I cared for him during this time and after nine months of this disease, he died at the age of 71. Throughout these nine months, our family had a chance to be together and heal. Mum cared for dad in her own home after his treatment. A sacrifice she made for my brother and I. Once dad left the hospital, he needed full-time care, my brother ran a business and I was working supporting my family. One of us would have to give up work to look after him. As I mentioned, they separated when I was 16 but she took him back and cared for him so we could continue to work. We were all devastated by the loss of dad. In the end, he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Not during the war but 42 years later by a cancer which is on the list of presumptive illnesses of Vietnam. 

Nine years after dad passed away, my family attended a ceremony at Government house in Wellington, where we received on behalf of dad, an acknowledgement from the government for service. He was formally recognised for his Mention in Despatches award and we were given his citation. This was a proud yet humbling moment for our family. 

The effect of the Vietnam war on our family took its toll, yet the price my dad paid was much bigger. In my grief after dad died, I wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister - John Key, asking him to remember my dad on ANZAC day and the sacrifice he had paid for his country. 

Nga mihi Awhi B

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very moving piece of writing, thank you for sharing it with us.

Oddball

homepaddock said...

Thank you for reminding us of the impact a war has not only on those who fight and not only while they’re fighting.

Noel said...

What was that caution the wives held over their children? Oh yeah...."wait until you father gets home".

Gerald said...

How ironic for a fund named after a former President of a Vietnam Veterans organisation who dismissed the Long Report as representing only those who served for a short time in the military.

Many who had served longer had at some point already been associated with questions previously.
I'll admit I didn't answer all questions truthfully knowing where they were leading.

Mind you he also dismissed Australian Reports on Mortality and Morbidity claiming "we were not National Servicemen".
Totally misunderstood the reason for that cohort.

Doesn't excuse the lack of promotion of the Long Report to force a change in War Disablement Pensions if only for "short timers".

The Veteran said...

Gerald ... do you try hard at being a c**t or does it come naturally. Your comment is totally and I repeat totally inappropriate given the nature of my post. I was of a mind to delete it but decided to leave it there for others to read and judge it.

Neville Wallace got off his butt and put his money where his mouth was in working with me to establish the Trust. I find it sad that you should choose to slag off at a well respected and decorated veteran who, in later life, worked tirelessly as a lawyer, often pro bono, to help Vvets facing legal issues. Easy to criticise the dead who can't defend themselves. One can fairly ask what have you have ever done for the Vvet community ... but I won't.

Gerald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Veteran said...

Gerald ... I have deleted your comment. You're digging yourself further in it. Suggest you take a rest from further comment on this thread.

RosscoWlg said...

Vet,

Great storey and a deserved winner!

How many NZ homes must have suffered similarly from WW1,WW2, Korea etc in exactly the same vain as this story.

They were heroes all!

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

Not wishing to detract from any part of your welcome post but I think most of us know the man involved. I think that the lady in question is lucky to have the "Vietnam" background to fall back on.

If you remove the word Vietnam from the essay you have the story of so many Maori families which is a tragedy. Bad nutrition, domestic abuse,alcohol dependency, sky high cancer rates and a mortality rate that is two and a half times that of Pakeha.

Hers is a story that is cyclical and certainly not reserved for veterans of any stripe and the sooner Maori health is made a priority the better.

RosscoWlg said...

May well be true Eggie but not the place to discuss that, you can do that on a Friday Fulmination!

I think we are talking sacrifice so a little bit poor taste.

Besides you missed Education. If you have education the other things probably fix themselves. Education gives you a job and dignity.

That's why the Scots/Irish valued it so highly and then went on to conquer the world

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

Wiggo...don't preach to me about sacrifice or when to post. Don't talk the talk if you haven't walked the walk.

RosscoWlg said...

Eggie can I help if you have poor taste and poor judgement, at your age you should have learned both but clearly not.

This post is about someones else sacrifice and it doesn't need someone like you trying to belittle it or somehow diminish it.....thank you.

FF is the place if you want to discuss your contribution to the Boer War. :)

David said...

May well be true Eggie but not the place to discuss that, you can do that on a Friday Fulmination!

Except Adolf The Coward of the Country Fink will not accept posts from m'Lord. So much for his commitment to freeze peach.

I think we are talking sacrifice so a little bit poor taste.

Not sure that you have the right to decide how a conversation may be had. Of course, it's always too soon after a massacre to talk about gun control, too soon after a bushfire to talk about climate change, too soon after a war to talk about peace.

Anyway, why are you attempting to frame the debate in religious terms? It seems to me that the post is about human suffering, human loss, and the futility of war.

War.

Heroes.

Victims.




Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Poor David. Wrong again. Generally I don't boot out the trolls from FF.

Rosscowig, you forgot to add 'over-use of hackneyed cliches' to Ledgut's many sins.

Psycho Milt said...

This post is about someones else sacrifice

The post was about the effect of war on the families of the people who return from it, not about "someone else's sacrifice." Save your "dulce et decorum est" wittering for tomorrow morning when everyone else is doing it.

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

It is not a veterans story, it is a New Zealand Story and above all a Maori story.

The myth that we are damaged is, in fact, the defining aspect of our generation of veterans, we had to live inside that myth. It shaped the trajectory of our whole life. The stereotype of the mentally scarred vet that seized the public imagination during the Vietnam conflict lingers to this day, in part due to the media’s infatuation with the theme.
Films such as Taxi Driver, Rambo, and Coming Home portrayed the veteran as a walking disaster , drug addled psychopath, or violent alcoholic misfits whereas the reality is that 95% of NZ veterans settled down and become a useful part of society and those that didn’t fitted in within the jail, suicide, divorce percentage of non veterans of that age. Not to mention the “official” position that Vietnam veterans were dying before their time when the opposite was true.

Print media told much the same story. In 1972, the New York times ran a front-page story, "Postwar Shock Is Found to Beset Veterans Returning from the War in Vietnam," reporting that half of all Vietnam veterans were “psychiatric casualties of war” in need of "professional help to readjust. Veterans are sometimes put in a box by those who don’t understand and labelled as villains, victims, or vindicators. Those three categories sweep aside the broad spectrum of veteran experiences and ignore everything veterans have to offer as complex individuals with unique circumstances.

We are only too ready to accept the media's story which always reinforces the stereotype from being rejected and spat upon to "sprayed and betrayed" none of which hold up to close scrutiny.


From a US veterans website:_
“While speaking to reporters about the Thousand Oaks shooter, Trump insinuated that the gunman’s actions may have been a result of military-related mental-health issues. “He saw some pretty bad things,” Trump said. “And a lot of people say he had the PTSD. That’s a tough deal.”

People within the military and veterans community were angered by the president’s comments, which risked reinforcing stereotypes about veterans being ticking time bombs, susceptible to committing violent crimes.

We have to stop the blame game as the only people we are hurting is ourselves and our offspring and I fail to see how forty years of domestic abuse and heavy drinking is a sacrifice for one family because of an event and a preventable occurrence for another family.

Tom Hunter said...

I could not agree with you more Eggburt. The Media-Entertainment industry has been a shocker on this story for forty years. As you say, to listen or read or watch what they produced about Vietnam veterans was to think that most of them were badly damaged and scary souls.

Having said that, can you begin to now see why I have so little trust in the MSM and Hollywood? They can burn to the ground as far as I'm concerned.

The Veteran said...

Egbut/Tom ... don't necessarily disagree with you but clearly Awhi's dad was a damaged soul and PTSD is real. Having said that I acknowledge there are Vvets (and I guess other veterans) who blame every misfortune they've ever suffered on their service. They are a minority and give the genuinely 'damaged' a bad name.

My post was not about 'veterans' per se but rather how they handled combat and the effect it had on their families. The essays made for compelling reading while a number number of submitters commented on the cathartic nature of their writings.

RosscoWlg said...

Oohh the sarcasm and disdain of the wittering classes runs deep in our Socilaist flag bearer, Physched Milt.

Next he'll be telling us that the only true sacrifice were the Russians in WW2.
Still I suspect most readers here understood my allusion to sacrifice whether it be the soldier or the family.
And Milt you puffed up bag of socialist hot air I actually think about my family and their sacrifices many days before the actual day, as I am sure a lot the wittering classes do.

A lot of them would wonder why they bothered with the sacrifice reading most of your posts.

If I was you I wouldnt poke my head out the door until after lunch you might run into a the wittering classes with their heads bowed in remembrance!

David said...

The Media-Entertainment industry has been a shocker on this story for forty years. As you say, to listen or read or watch what they produced about Vietnam veterans was to think that most of them were badly damaged and scary souls.

All good stories are based on conflict. Perhaps Macbeth would be a better play if Duncan had just said "OH, I believe the witches too. Here, Macbeth, take the crown".

Perhaps, Chunter, you could write a movie script about a little boy who grew, went to war, and came home and lived a normal life. Do you know why nobody writes those movies? Because they are not interesting. And unlike you, that majority of us go to see movies for entertainment, not as a history lesson.

Psycho Milt said...

A lot of them would wonder why they bothered with the sacrifice reading most of your posts.

Alas, yes, if our brave lads had only known that people would be able to have their own opinions in future, they never would have volunteered in the first place (or allowed themselves to be conscripted, maybe). Which of them would have been able to stomach going to war if they'd known that not everyone in future generations would become a pompous, virtue-signalling blowhard whenever their service was mentioned?

Anonymous said...

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11065014

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

2012...old news and now discredited. Don't go there on the basis of a reporter who has done no research