Vietnam Veterans Day in the eyes of Nambucca Valley ex-serviceman Gary Mckay

Gary McKay completing National Service in the Australian Army in the Vietnam War.


AUGUST 18 is the day we commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, on the anniversary of ‘The Battle of Long Tan’ in 1966.

This is a day that we say thanks to those sixty thousand Australians who served during Australia’s ten year engagement in the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 lockdown, the veterans of the Nambucca Valley were unable to hold their usual gathering for Vietnam Veterans Day this year.

However, News Of The Area was able to speak to Vietnam War veteran and Nambucca Valley gentleman, Gary McKay, prior to the lockdown.

We had the honour of learning about this lovely man’s journey.

“Fifty five years ago ‘The Battle of Long Tan’ took place just out of Nui Dat,” Gary stated.

“This battle was a significant event in Australian recent military history and much has been written about this battle.

“In 2019 the movie ‘Danger Close – The Battle of Long Tan’ was released.”

When asked what Vietnam Veterans Day means to Gary he said, “The commemoration service not only recognises ‘The Battle of Long Tan’, but we also remember all of those men and women who served in Vietnam.”

Vietnam is another chapter in Australia’s military history where soldiers were given a task and they performed it with courage and skill, without complaint.

Gary served as a ‘Gasoline Cowboy’ with a Squadron, 3 Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam from November 1967 to June 1968.

This particular role was to support the infantry of both Australia and New Zealand with taxi services to the front and pick up services on the return.

“I was at Balmoral when it hit the fan in ’68,” Gary said.

“Not pleasant being on a two-way rifle range.

“The realism soon hit that one of the outcomes of war is the death of soldiers on both sides of the fight.”

“We were there to do a job and we were a proud bunch, doing what we thought was a fair deal to help the people of South Vietnam.

“The fact that 60,000 plus served during the war, 521 of our mates paid the ultimate price and approximately 3000 were wounded, brings it back to reality.

“The terrible memories will not leave many of us.”

Sadly, their welcome home was not a warm one.

“When we returned, we were thought of as mercenaries or working as soldiers of fortune.

“Like in the Normie Rowe song: our brothers thought we were killers and our fathers thought we were heroes.

“It was a moratorium time and we were not the flavour of the month, most feeling hurt or humiliated.

“We remember it as a conflict we didn’t choose to be involved in, it was a decision made by our politicians at the time.”

Gary went on to explain that even to this day the impact of war on Vietnam Veterans is ever present.

“Many of our mates shiver at the sound of a helicopter overhead, a plate dropping, a bus backfiring, and many don’t sleep peacefully because the memories are still with them.”

It wasn’t until October 1987 that Vietnam Veterans were recognised, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke set aside August 18 for Vietnam Veterans to commemorate ‘The Battle of Long Tan’.

This has now become the designated day where the service men and women of the Vietnam War are remembered.

Gary remembers quite clearly the debrief he was given when he returned from his National Service time in Vietnam.

“I recall it was a bit like ‘Get on with it and harden up Digger.’

“If you were a ‘Nasho’, (National Service conscription) then they didn’t want you anymore.

“Throw the Greens away, don’t salute your boss and forget that there were people who we didn’t know trying to shoot us a short time ago.

“So back to your civilian job.”

The lack of support after their return and the impact it has had on the mental health of these Australian soldiers has been highly debated over time.

“We need to be proactive and say ‘Are you ok mate?’.

“This simple action may save one of our mates,” Gary said of the mental health issues many returned Vietnam veterans struggle with.

“We don’t wear our medals to be seen as heroes, we wear them so we do not forget that there is no glory in war and that sadly some of our mates did not come home as we did.

“We should be proud to have served in Vietnam.

“We left our families and loved ones, we put our lives at risk, we should hold our heads high and thank our mates who looked after us and didn’t come home.

“We will remember them.”




Gary McKay retired to the Nambucca Valley and is a proactive advocate of the well-being and support of returned soldiers.

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