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Nurse recalls Vietnam war experience

Vietnam War nurse Susan Jackson, with veterans Willie Simonsen, (right) and Vic Gadsby. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON


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Susan Jackson has vivid memories of her time during the Vietnam War, running two hospitals as a young nurse.

But she also remembers the country’s attitudes towards the veterans when they returned from Vietnam 40 years ago.

Being spat at on in the street, not allowed to talk about their time at war, and being ashamed of where they had come from was the reality for veterans when they returned.

But last Friday, those who served were honoured at a ceremony marking the 51st anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan on Vietnam Veterans Day at Masterton’s Cenotaph in Queen Elizabeth Park.

More than 3000 New Zealand troops, including about 30 from Wairarapa, fought in Vietnam — but not all of them returned.

Thirty-seven were killed in action, 187 wounded and two medical staff died.

New Zealand committed troops to the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1972, with nine rifle companies rotated.

CAPTION: Vietnam War veterans commemorates those who had gone before them at the Cenotaph at Queen Elizabeth Park in Masterton on Friday. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

The reason Mrs Jackson chose to nurse injured soldiers in Vietnam was because of how they were treated back home.

“I came from a military family and the reason I went . . . it was appalling how unpopular the war was to everyone,” she said.

“It was the men that mattered, they went for Queen and country and their loyalty meant a lot.”

Mrs Jackson was a pen-pal to a few soldiers fighting in Vietnam.

“From them I got a real insight for what it meant to be a soldier . . . my loyalty for them shifted.”

She said Last Friday was about remembering the way the New Zealand soldiers were treated when they returned home.

After returning to New Zealand in 1972, after nearly a year, Mrs Jackson said she nursed more soldiers at home than she did in Vietnam helping them deal with post traumatic depression and rehabilitation.

Victor Five (V5) Company Vietnam veteran Willie Simonsen said annually, this day was very important.

“Today is a day the community can remember those who have gone before us,” Mr Simonsen.

Mr Simonsen, a RSA support advisor, said the number of veterans from Wairarapa had “dwindled”.

As a cancer survivor himself, he said many of the men had poor health due to medical conditions related to the war.

The day commemorated the soldiers with the laying of a wreath and the playing of the Last Post, followed by a dinner.

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