Flat White

Respect will never fade away

10 August 2020

7:16 PM

10 August 2020

7:16 PM

In the coming weeks, Australia will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

It seems only yesterday since the 50th anniversary of that same date, when scores of veterans, most in their eighth decades, charmed the nation at a series of commemorative events from recreated rail and road convoys to parades.

Despite their age, the veterans had lost none of the larrikin traits that characterised them and their military service.

Quietly in the background, the nation was simultaneously farewelling the remaining few World War I veterans, men and women who are now all gone.

The bittersweet contrast was not lost on the nation that took those old Diggers into their hearts, marvelled at their exploits, wept at their sacrifices and savoured the chance to meet those we continue to owe so much. Now, the few surviving World War II veterans, most well into their tenth decades and approaching the end of their days, will again be feted by a grateful nation.

Along the journey they have been decorated by countries they helped liberate, the French Legion d’Honneur for those who fought in the European war in 1944, the Philippine Liberation Medal and Greek campaign medals for those who served in those theatres.

Some soldiered on to fight other wars, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam.

World War II veterans changed the face of the ADF, providing the nucleus of Australia’s post-war regular forces.

Many excelled in their chosen postwar endeavours, others fell by the wayside, unable to return usefully to the society they had left.

Those who married, settled and raised families, sired a generation known as the baby boomers.

They produced prime ministers, state premiers and a host of other parliamentarians, passing legislation to guide the following generations.

Having given so much, who better to provide that guide?

In his farewell speech to the US Congress on April 19, 1951, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur remarked, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

On Anzac Days and other commemorations, often all that is left now are their faded unit banners, many veterans either departed or too frail to participate.

Enjoy them while they are still among us.

They, in turn, should know, 75 years on, their legacy is in capable hands.

Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets DownThis piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin.

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