Kate shares her father's story

Medic treating a young Vietnamese girl

I am a daughter of a Vietnam Veteran who served as a Medical Officer in the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). I saw a 6ft photograph of my father as a medic treating a young Vietnamese girl.

This photograph was significant to me because my father didn’t talk much, so when I saw his larger-than-life portrait at the Australian War Memorial, I had the sense that I was being let into a secret. I saw a different person – a young man. Up to this point in my life, he hadn’t been involved in his children’s lives and he hadn’t been connected to other veterans or his service. He seemed rigid, not adaptable and was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From seeing this photograph, my interest in my father and his service grew, and because I was interested in him and his service, he learned to share with me freely.

This changed how I saw my father, it changed our relationship and it changed me. I joined the Army Cadets. He shared his Vietnam jokes with me, like when I returned home from a week-long bivouac and the family house was empty, he left a bar of soap with a note saying ‘wash yourself thoroughly’ so we (the family) can come back into the house!

Because of my participation, my father started coming to the Anzac Day parade when he hadn’t ever before. This led to him reconnecting to old mates and he started to accept more of his Vietnam Veteran identity.

Unfortunately, my father died before his photograph as a medic in Vietnam was made into a stamp.

Recently, I attended the Australian War Memorial as a Family Peer Advisor with Open Arms, a service started by Vietnam Veterans. I wore my dad’s medals on the right while other peer workers wore their medals on the left.

I am touched by how far we’ve come and how things have changed. Family stories are encouraged and our stories of recovery from mental ill-health are valued. This is in stark contrast from how my father tried to cope in silence and isolation. 

If I could write a plaque about my experience it would read ‘In recognition of what is given by the families of those who have served this country - those who have supported the Veteran in home and heart’.