Anzac Day this year is one of quiet reflection with marches and services across Australia cancelled, but these unprecedented times will not stop us pausing and reflecting on those who made the ultimate sacrifice in war.
Such is the case for Vietnam veteran John Bryant and military ‘lifer’ Paul Fagan.
Both joined the Australian Army before their 20th birthdays, John in the April of 1967 as a national serviceman and Paul with parental permission at the age of 17 in the 1970s.
“You had to register at 19 for the national service,” John said about the national service legislation.
“In those days you couldn’t vote until you were 21.”
Both veterans have a family history with the Australian armed forces. John’s father was in Papua New Guinea during WWII trudging the infamous Kokoda track. His mother served in the signal corps. Paul’s father and grandfather served before him.
“My father was in the navy, a career sailor,” Paul said.
“And one of my grandfathers served in both the world wars — a sucker for punishment.”
Paul served 20 years in the army, travelling up and down the east coast of Australia in many roles.
“There wasn’t much on the horizon when I joined, Australian troops had been pulled (from Vietnam) in ‘71 and ‘72 and Vietnam finished in ‘74-’75 with the fall of Saigon,” he said.
“Cambodia was a while away — it was what the boys on the inside call the 20-year break.”
Paul trained as a gunner before being discharged as a sergeant. In his words, he grew bored of normal life and went back in.
“I served just on 20 years, I ended up being medically discharged — I prolapsed two discs in my back.
“I had a good career; I got to do and try plenty of things.”
On a traditional Anzac Day, Paul wakes about four in the morning before heading to the local RSL for a dawn service.
“Up until a few years ago I used to catch up with a lot of the old blokes — the WWII blokes that were my cricket coaches and football coaches when I was a kid — it was a great thing to see them and show respect on the day.”
“This year I might have a fire up the back and have my own service.
“People should take time to reflect themselves, have your own thoughts.
“This virus doesn’t change history — remember, this year there are still people deployed and serving overseas — think of those poor people who have families.
“Society should show respect where respect is due.
“It’ll be the same as every other Anzac Day — paying respects to what people have done before us.”
Vietnam veteran John Bryant plans to spend April 25 in a similar manner.
“Without the people who came before us we wouldn’t be here, they literally gave everything,” John said.
“The beauty of humanity is our ability to think on our own.
“We are melded together via things like Anzac Day.”
Without fail John finds himself at a service every year, marching with his sons, donning his medals, his parents’ medals and his son’s medals.
“My eldest son is still serving overseas, so I have his medals,” he said.
“This year we have to take everything as it comes, it’s a pretty serious thing. I’ll probably call up my army mates. A lot of people will be a little sad, but every single vet of any conflict will understand.”
John served in the third battalion, participating in some of the largest battles of the Vietnam war, including the battle of Coral Balmoral in 1968.
“I was enlisted in April of ‘67 and in Vietnam by December; Coral Balmoral was 26 days of fighting — I genuinely thought I’d be killed.”
Even though he’s recalling staring death in the face, John can still find some humour.
“I married in ‘67, best year of my marriage, we never had one blue,” he joked.
In and out of combat, John was offered a promotion and a future in a training role, but he was happy just to make his contribution and survive Vietnam then return to civilian life.
“I told them, I was out of here when I got back,” he explained.
“I couldn’t wait to get there, and then I couldn’t wait to get back; if I wasn’t married, I would have found a battalion and gone straight back.”
The reason for the change of heart was the mood in Australia.
“Our own country hated us; we knew exactly where we stood in Vietnam.”
Both John and Paul are veterans with the military, but they are relative newbies to the hunting scene.
“I suffer from the effects of exposure to agent orange. I went bush with a mate of mine and his crew back in ‘95 to help improve,” John said.
“I still hunt with the same mob, but I was nearly 50 when I got into hunting deer.”
Paul was the same, the 63-year-old getting into deer hunting via his two sons a decade or so ago. Now he is a member of the Westernport branch of the Australian Deer Association and is heavily involved with deer management programs.
Now, all that is asked of those who enjoy the hard-won freedoms our veteran fought and died for is that we remember their sacrifice.
Lest we forget.