Photo by Cheryl Goodenough
ANZAC day is a very important day for me. This is for many special reasons, not only because it is the official day of recognition and commemoration for Australia but also because on this special day I remember my family.
I have had many of my descendants fight in wars all over the world, from my Great Grandfather who was an ANZAC and who fought in France, my Grand Father who fought in WWII and my Father who fought in Vietnam.
I never met my Great Grandfather and my Grandfather never spoke of his experiences (he passed away when I was 13). My Dad was a Vietnam Vet and he was very scarred by the experience. My mother divorced him upon his return as he had become an alcoholic and had a very large amount of mental health issues.
As kids we suffered quite a bit because of the Vietnam War. We lost a father and our family was split up, we lived with my Grand parents for many years (the best of my life I have to admit – lollies and love and kindness abounded but that is what Grand Parents are for!).
I remember going to the Dawn Ceremony in Melbourne one year with my Dad, I must have been 6-7. Dad and I were in the city centre very early, it was dark and I was excited. From my point of view it was fun (I was walking in a parade, in the City and people were cheering me – oh, to be so naive again). I was spending time with my Dad (who I did not see so often anymore due to his mental health issues). It was all going terrifically well until we had an incident (due to his mental health) and we had to come home. I was a bit shaken up by it but really all that mattered to me was that I was spending time with my Dad.
As I grew older I realised what a toll the Vietnam War took on him. He was physically very ill and he had a tremendous amount of anxiety. One day he told me of how he coped with his anxiety (a hot water bottle on his stomach helped) and how much it unsettled him, he felt very vulnerable and depressed. Whenever I asked him how he was he always said “not too well”.
Veteran Affairs were a terrific organisation (they still are), they took care of a lot of things for him. VA even offered assistance to me because I was the child of a veteran (they too recognised that the children of veterans needed assistance). VA does amazing things for the returned servicemen and their families and their staff should be commended – it would be a very challenging job.
When my Dad passed away his funeral was a very sombre affair, a bugler and a piper played, our family was there (we had not seen each other in many years) and then we held a wake at the local RSL Club.
Afterwards whlst doing some research, I found the following tribute to him by one of his friends.
“A Goodbye to Paul”
“About a year ago, I went to the funeral of someone I had met briefly with a friend a few times over coffee. At the graveside funeral were just my friend, his wife, a couple of interstate relatives and the ‘compulsory’ Returned & Services League (RSL) officiate. Dead much too soon with no fanfare, no tears, and only the Last Post for his epitaph; something I found indescribably sad.
Paul Christopher Harrington
They laid you in a hole today
Put you to rest.
In reading your obituary I see
That you were only one month younger
Still than me.
A bugler played but Vietnam was
Oh so long ago
A piper piped
Still had it with you we both know.
I hope you didn’t think
When I marched with other sisters, mothers, lovers
That I felt any less of you
Or scorned what you yourself had tried to do.
Depression slays as sure as any foe
A bullet evil, insidious and slow.
You feel no more but more I feel for you
Regret for what you had, for what you cannot see.
They laid you in a hole today and
You were only one month younger
Still than me.
ANZAC day is a very special day for all of those who have been involved in some way or other in the military. They should be recognised more often and they are heroes to me. I would love to see a day where there is no need for service men and service women though.