By Derek Schlennstedt
More than 50 years after fighting in the plantations of South Vietnam three Australian veterans and one Vietnamese veteran marked their reconciliation with a hug and a handshake on Remembrance Day.
50 years ago, 3RAR veterans Neil Aldred, Daryl Bristowe and Bill Black would not have hesitated in shooting their enemy on sight. But in a peculiar twist of fate, on 11 November, 2019, four Vietnam veterans, who in 1971 were sworn enemies on opposite sides of history, met face to face in Emerald and became friends.
Bill black- a former medic in 3RAR recalled his first contact with the North Vietnamese Army, which he would meet 50 years later while having lunch at Elevation.
He told the Mail that at age 23 he went into the jungles of Vietnam and on their first night outside the wire were in the fight of their lives.
“We were going outside the wire, out into the real world…there was to be no enemy activity for 15 miles around,” Mr Black said.
“We were out in the scrub and we’re safe …I was lying on my side in a deep sleep and all of a sudden it was like a thousand Guy Faux nights. It was on- you could hear the M60’s barking and explosions everywhere.”
“It came out a year later that when each new battalion came over, they would hit us to see what we were made of. They tested us.”
“We since learned it was a battalion of NVA that hit us, which were the pros.”
As they sat at Elevation 50 years later, the three veterans revisited their war stories, though none noticed the family of Vietnamese tourists sitting opposite them.
It was only when the tour interpreter overheard their conversation that they encountered someone from their past, who in 1971 would have been deemed ‘the enemy’. In fact, just one table away was an officer of the North Vietnamese Army, surrounded by his family.
At this realisation Bill and Daryl looked on as the Vietnamese man – a former NVA officer- embraced Neil who was wearing his Vietnam Vet bomber jacket.
“It was surreal; you can probably hear it in my voice. I’m still emotional,” Bill said as he recalled the moment.
“He was an officer in the NVA – the same mob that hit us on the first night. What are the chances?”
While in 1971, the three veterans would’ve been in direct conflict with the Vietnamese veteran Bill said he never hated the Vietnamese.
The emotional meeting between the four Vietnam Veterans showed that this prevailing attitude has remained and that peace and forgiveness can be found, decades after fighting against each other in the jungles of Vietnam.
“I don’t think any of us considered them enemies, because the way we were trained and programmed it was shoot or be shot,” Bill said.
“For me that meeting was like smoking a peace pipe. There was no animosity, no grudge, we were all soldiers, all brothers in arms.”
Following the meeting the promise was made to keep connected.