The Vietnam War was also known as the Second Indochina War and referred to by the Vietnamese as the American War. It was a conflict that went from 1955 to 1975 between the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (currently known as North of Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (currently known as South of Vietnam). North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies. South Vietnam was supported by the United States of America and other anti communist allies including New Zealand. The war occurred mainly in Vietnam but also extended into Laos and Cambodia.
The United States sent their first troops in 1965 soon to be followed by soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. The war ended in 1975, due to South Vietnam’s defeat and after the United States and its allies withdrew military support. The costly war affected many lives. Over one million soldiers and two million civilians died during the war and the consequences can still be felt today. Background The Vietnam war had its roots in French colonial rule of Indochina during the previous century.
After world war two France wanted to continue its hold over Vietnam and set up the State of Vietnam (currently known as South Vietnam) as an “associated statehood”. This government clashed with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (currently known as North Vietnam), who at the time was under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh had different political ideals and had nationalistic goals of reuniting the North and the South. The first Indochina war was the result of this conflict. The French were greatly outnumbered by the Viet Minh people, but had financial aid and much better weapon technology from the United States.
Their tactics and civilian intelligence allowed the Viet Minh to defeat the French. At Dien Bien Phu, in 1954, the French had their last fight in this long battle. The siege and battle took a toll on the French military. In the same year, the Geneva Accords were signed, which brought an end to the first Indochina War. The French left Indochina. The Geneva agreement split Vietnam into the North and South, but did not end the fighting. South Vietnam feared the communist North overtaking them. The United States soon came to the aid of South Vietnam and were followed it allies, including New Zealand.
Timeline – Key Events in the Vietnam Conflict for New Zealand April 1963- New Zealand civilian surgical team arrives in Vietnam, based at Qui Nhon. They trained local staff and treated civilian casualties. June 1964- NEWZAD (New Zealand Army Detachment Vietnam) arrive in Vietnam, after continuous pressure from the United States. Based at Thu Dau Mot, the engineer detachment helped with reconstruction projects. July 1965- NEWZAD is withdrawn. 161 battery RNZA (Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery) arrives, and is placed under the command of the United States army’s 173rd Airborne brigade.
Based at Nui Dat. August 1965- New Zealand’s first fatalities, Sergeant Alastair Don and Bombardier Robert White, lose their lives after their vehicle is destroyed. August 1966- 161 battery RNZA is involved in the battle of Long Tan, providing artillery support to an Australian infantry company. April 1967- NZSMT (New Zealand Services Medical Team) arrives in Vietnam, based at Bong Son. They trained local staff and treated civilian casualties. May 1967- V (Victor) Company 1RNZIR (1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment) arrive in Vietnam.
November 1967- V Company 1RNZIR is replaced by V2 company 1RNZIR. December 1967- W (whiskey) Company 1RNZIR arrive in Vietnam. March 1968- New Zealand Infantry Companies (military unit) join with 2RAR (2nd battalion, the Royal Australian regiment) to form 2RAR/NZ battalion at Nui Dat. May 1968- V2 Company 1RNZIR is replaced with V3 Company 1RNZIR. November 1968- W Company 1RNZIR is replaced by W2 company 1RNZIR. December 1968- 4 Troop NZSAS (New Zealand Special Air Service) arrive in Vietnam, serving with the Australian SAS squadron in Nui Dat.
May 1969- V3 Company 1RNZIR is replaced by V4 company 1RNZIR. November 1969- W2 Company 1RNZIR is replaced by W3 Company 1RNZIR. May 1970- V4 Company 1RNZIR is replaced by V5 Company 1RNZIR. November 1970- W3 Company 1RNZIR withdraws from Vietnam. January 1971- 1NZATTV (The first New Zealand Army Training Team Vietnam) arrive. May 1971- 161 Battery RNZA withdraws from Vietnam. V5 Company 1RNZIR is replaced with V6 Company 1RNZIR. December 1971- NZSMT and V6 Company 1RNZIR are withdrawn from Vietnam. March 1972- 2NZATTV arrives in Vietnam.
December 1972- Both NZATTV teams are withdrawn from Vietnam. March 1975- New Zealand civilian surgical team team withdraws from Vietnam April 1975- New Zealand ambassador is evacuated from Vietnam by the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) this is their last RNZAF flight out of Vietnam. Why was New Zealand Involved in the War? The conditions outlined in the ANZUS Pact is the main reason New Zealand supported the United States and South Vietnam against the North. ANZUS is the security alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
At the time the then Prime minister, Keith Holyoake responded to United States calls for support in the Vietnam conflict as the United States was very concerned about the spread of communism. The United States saw Vietnam as the front line for the fight against communism in Asia. The United States felt that if Vietnam fell to communism, other asian countries would succumb to a similar fate, referring to it as the “domino effect”. Holyoake was persuaded to help due to the strong ties New Zealand had with the United States because of the ANZUS treaty.
At first a surgical team was sent in 1963, but later the RNZA 161 Battery was sent after constant pressure from the United States to send a combat force. This was the first conflict that New Zealand did not fight alongside Great Britain. Sending NZ troops to Vietnam was a very unpopular decision, with much of the New Zealand public blaming its Government for being too submissive towards the United States. New Zealand Soldiers in the War Between 1963-1975, over 3000 New Zealander soldiers and support personnel went and helped in the Vietnam war, peaking at 548 in 1968.
They were just regular soldiers going where they were told to go. Most were around the age of 21 and went for 12 months. They served in combat units, hospital wards, jungles, villages, offices and training camps. New Zealand soldiers in the jungle The New Zealand veterans went for patriotic reasons and wanted to be soldiers, waiting for their big adventure. However, the reality of what it was actually like was a lot different when they got there. A New Zealand veteran, Paddy Driver who was in Vietnam from 1968-69 said, “I can always remember seeing the odd civilian body wrapped up in newspaper in the gutters.
It really came home to me then that this is a lot more serious than just an adventure. That was one of my first impressions. ” One NZ veteran described Vietnam upon the first day of arrival, saying there were so many shell holes that it looked like the moon covered in craters and the sky was aligned with aeroplanes and helicopters. For the NZ veterans, going to Vietnam was still an adventure, just not exactly the adventure they were looking for. It was a very stressful time for New Zealand soldiers during the war. The people they spent all their time with, eating, sleeping e. . c. died so fast.
“It was the closest glimpse of hell I’ve ever looked into, everywhere you looked men were dying. ” Colin Sisson, a new soldier said. Each soldier carried 90 pounds of extra weight on a mission. A bandolier of ammunition, 2-4 hand grenades, 2 smoke grenades, an m72, an m79, m60 machine guns and radios. They took caffeine pills to stay alert and wide awake on missions, but this meant they were unable to sleep. “The worst memories was the fear, the fear of the Unknown, not knowing what was coming around the corner. ” Said Paddy Driver the NZ veteran.
The New Zealand fighting force operated in silence and used sign language as communication. They were sometimes called Grey Ghosts and known as “the undetected” by the Vietnamese. They were told to fight off the people that wore black pyjamas and a hat, but ended up fighting Vietnamese children and women, because lots of people wore black Pyjamas and a hat, this is not what the men were prepared for and in the end caused a lot of psychological damage. The instinct was to kill or be killed. In the end they had to live with knowing that they just killed someone that was in the same situation as them.
Anti-War Movement at Home Back at home the war was highly criticised. It created political and moral debate with the public. This resulted in an organised, vocal anti-Vietnam war movement. Many People disagreed with the weapons and tactics being used and the impact on innocent lives. They challenged the New Zealand security policies, also questioning whether communism in Vietnam posed much of a threat to New Zealand. By the late 60s, thousands were marching against the war and there were demonstrations in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
One of the most militant groups were the Progressive Youth movement. Barriers were broken down, eggs, paint and flour bombs were thrown in protest. In 1970, the United States Vice President, Spiro Agnew came to visit, and 200 policemen had to be there to control the riot of protesters. The anti war movement prompted New Zealand to reevaluate their foreign alliance policy and their relationship with the United States. 1971 Anti-Vietnam war mobilisation poster in NZ Families of New Zealand Soldiers The Vietnam war had a big impact on the families of the NZ veterans.
To avoid victimisations or their association with the war, Army wives had to stay quiet about their husband’s whereabouts. Deployments were kept secret to avoid the protesters, so families had to say goodbye at home. Some wives were targets in anti-war stunts and received prank phone calls about their husband’s death. Families received little information from the army. The best way to get info was from the television, which showed the latest on the war and on troop movements. Some families received information that their husbands were coming home from television.
Homecoming and Recognition Because New Zealand’s involvement in the war was so controversial, most of the soldiers recall their homecoming as disappointing and when they returned home they were often treated as outcasts. Coming home, the veterans did not know about the anti war movement and this came as a big shock. On the plane ride home, everyone was cheering, relieved to be leaving, however when they got to New Zealand the commanding officer told them that they needed to take off their uniforms as soon as possible and not to tell anyone where they’d been.
The veterans stayed hidden away and were told to deny their involvement in Vietnam. Even though Vietnam was one of the most intense experience of their lives, they had no counseling to help them adjust to their everyday life and to the various consequences of having fought in an unpopular war resulting in alcoholism, depression and at worst, suicide. These are all the result of post traumatic stress disorder. The veterans had horrific experiences, some came home without their friend and saw things they would never forget. Beside the protests, it was like nothing happened when they got home.
Unlike the WWII veterans, Vietnam veterans received little recognition for their service when they returned. They were never given an official homecoming parade until 1971 in Auckland (which many veterans discount). This was to mark the withdrawal of 161 Battery, RNZA (Royal regiment of New Zealand artillery) and 4 troop NZSAS (New Zealand special air service). It was uneventful until anti war protesters disrupted the parade. Firecrackers and red paint bombs were thrown onto the road. Some paint covered protesters also sat on the road, attempting to block the parade, but were soon removed by the Police.
Apart from the parade, there wasn’t very much recognition for the veterans until decades later. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by The Crown with Vietnam veterans and family members in 2006. The MoU agreement included: an official apology, a trust to support the veterans children, a national reunion, an official parade called ‘The tribute 08’, the eligibility for the veterans to receive medals and an oral and digital history archive, recorded by professional historians across the country over 4 years. For the veterans that served in Vietnam, this was some late but hard earned closure.