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A nod to our Vietnam vets

Friday marked 60 years since the first New Zealand civilian surgical team arrived in Vietnam, but there is still a strong bond between those involved in the conflict that unfolded.

Under Masterton’s war memorial and a New Zealand flag waving in the breeze, veterans and supporters came together on Friday to acknowledge the day and pay tribute to those who served.

Veteran and president of the Masterton Returned Services Association [RSA] Willie Simonsen said serving in Vietnam had a long-lasting impact on those involved.

“We all arrived home mentally wounded, and some physically wounded,” Simonsen said, going on to acknowledge “the struggles we had in the years to come to obtain recognition by the government and general public for our involvement in the Vietnam War”.

Citing health issues due to Agent Orange chemicals, Simonsen [who is a cancer survivor] said he knows many who became sick in the years that followed the war.

“There are struggles with health issues we all have faced due to Agent Orange,” Simonsen said, noting also “the well-known fact of the intergenerational effects it may have on our children and grandchildren”.

Simonsen said another reason for keeping close contact with each other was because of the cultural landscape after the war ended.

“It was an unpopular war – when we came back, the public was against us. Everyone was against us.”

Simonsen said he was told to stay away from a girl he was seeing at the time by her father because of his involvement in the war.

Simonsen said regular coffee catch-ups and Christmas dinners through the RSA wae some ways the returned serviceman have kept in touch.

“As a group stay strong, stay proud.”

Susan Jackson – who served as a nurse in the Vietnam War – said the work Simonsen puts into keeping everyone connected was “absolutely marvellous”.

“He’s just the ultimate,” Jackson said.

“He’s been so supportive and always doing everything for the Vietnam vets. We love him and appreciate him.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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