Most who have been there, would agree that a visit to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum on Phillip Island is essential for any Australian. Not only does this unique museum present the story of Australia’s involvement in our most contentious conflict with its diverse collection, supported by smart technology, but it is also a sacred place for all veterans, indeed Australians. Vietnam veteran Colonel Ken Anderson, AM, seeing the importance of the Museum, has written its history in Soldiers are Persons.
Ken Anderson himself remains a committed member of the small group of largely Vietnam veteran volunteers who manage the Museum. For many years Ken has seen the Museum evolve from it mobile Nambus exhibition days through static and unsuitable facilities to the present high grade facility that it is. Having spoken to thousands of visitors Ken has been able to gauge and monitor the growing level of public interest and support for this non profit venture.
Rather than just present a chronology of enthusiastic endeavours resulting in a bricks and mortar structure, Colonel Anderson wants to further enlighten the reader. He seeks to introduce the notion of closure for a public which still remembers that the Vietnam conflict, of all wars in which Australia has been committed, was the one which resulted not just in the loss of mates, but the loss of public respect as well. Even in the introduction he places the importance of the book in context when he says that the raison d’etre of the Museum is to pay homage to those Australians who served, and not merely provide a history of conflict or display of war relics. His book, like the Museum offers a modicum of recognition and appreciation to those who served and those who waited. Accordingly, throughout the book the reader senses that the writer wants to convey the more personalized discreteness that the hearts and minds of Vietnam veterans deserve – hence the title.
Having explored the origins and needs for a National Vietnam Veterans Museum Ken Anderson describes the major exhibits held at the Museum. Areas of the book such as this would benefit from an index but remain easily readable and crammed with tidbits of information. Witness the story behind the acquisition of the very popular MASH helicopter housed next to the Cobra helicopter. Other exhibits such as the Flight Experience Machine add to the interactive amusement of visitors of all ages. These larger items of course are dwarfed in numbers by the overall holdings of 25000 items such as uniforms, badges and more personal items such as the formal notification of the death of the first National Serviceman to fall in South Vietnam.
In closing the author introduces the main players in the Museum’s life and looks to the future. Whilst some might expect a finite life expectancy for the Museum Anderson is more optimistic. Attendance figures continue to grow despite less emphasis in schools on the history of Vietnam. Plus there is a growing interest in earlier Australian military history so, with careful commercial practices and dedicated volunteers, the future remains rosy. Like the Museum itself, Soldiers are Persons aims to ensure that the identity of all Vietnam veterans is maintained. Ken Anderson certainly has played his part in meeting this objective.
Neil Smith AM
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