SHOWING RESPECT: Toowoomba Vietnam Veterans Association president Norman Fry with members of the local Vietnamese community at the Vietnam Veterans Day service.
SHOWING RESPECT: Toowoomba Vietnam Veterans Association president Norman Fry with members of the local Vietnamese community at the Vietnam Veterans Day service. Bev Lacey

Genuine sense of respect as veterans embrace future

NORMAN Fry walked away from the Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony on August 18 "feeling really good about the respect being shown to veterans and their future".

Council, state and federal government, Legacy and returned service group representatives laid wreaths, and the words of Year 11 St Ursula's College student Grace Bowman touched hearts.

But the presence for the first time of members of the Vietnamese Community in Australia Queensland branch was particularly special to veterans, according to the Toowoomba Vietnam Veterans Association president.

"Having that group involved, being there in their national dress, was outstanding and added an extra level of sincerity," Mr Fry said.

"I know from experience that like Australians, they hold their veterans in great respect."

The three-striped red and yellow flag of South Vietnam, which more than 40 years after the war continues to be a symbol of freedom and heritage, flew beside the Australian flag at the ceremony, attended by about 150 people. With the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War having often been played out against veterans in the past, Mr Fry said it was good to hear Grace Bowman genuinely recognise their service, suffering and sacrifice on behalf of young people.

"As the future of this country, we are obliged to protect the legacy and memory that has been given to us," she told the crowd.

In a deliberate move to embrace the future, this was the third year that the sub-branch had asked the school's Rising Daughters group to provide a speaker.

"Giving them the floor to have their say with a modern perspective is a way to recognise their efforts and stay relevant," Mr Fry said.

However, he said, veterans continued to be haunted by the past, what they saw and experienced, and faced ongoing health and mental health challenges.

"Sometimes, it's just good to know there's someone there for you," Mr Fry said.

That was the thinking behind the establishment of the Toowoomba Vietnam Veterans Drop-in Centre. Opened in 2017, Mr Fry said the number of people dropping in had confirmed the need for the centre, which acts as a one-stop shop with information on available services, DVA advice and a place to "chew the fat" with other veterans.

"We've been able to help a good number of people to resolve their problems and get back on their feet," Mr Fry said.

He hopes that with ongoing talks between Toowoomba Regional Council and RSL president Roland Thompson, Toowoomba United RSL will next year gain its long-sought refurbishment, which will also give the Vietnam veterans group a permanent home.

For information on the Vietnam Veterans' sub-branch, contact Mr Fry (07) 4630 9815 or drop in at its separate entrance to RSL, 549 Ruthven St.

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