Barry Mannix survived a blast in Vietnam, while Paul Penno OAM was recently at a graveside service commemorating a Bendigo boy killed in action.
Both of the Vietnam War veterans met recently to discuss the importance of Remembrance Day and allowed the Advertiser to capture their conversation.
Their conversation gave an insight into the life-long impacts of their service to their country.
The two veterans met out the back of the Bendigo RSL to talk about the importance of Remembrance Day and the Advertiser captured their conversation.
Barry was conscripted as an infantryman and in 1969 was metres away from a blast that hospitalised him, leaving doctors to remove shrapnel from his hand.
"A young bloke was killed and me mate, a machine gunner got hit down through his vital organs," he said.
Barry still bears marks from the blast, along with tinnitus which can make it hard for him to hear.
In Vietnam, Paul would truck young infantrymen not unlike Barry back and forth for operations.
"I'd say 'righto, you bastards, get off, I'm out of here'," Paul said.
"Really though, the guys who were called up at that time were the cream of the crop."
Barry and Paul had not met before. Paul lives in Eaglehawk, Barry in Heathcote, so the conversation quickly turned to Bendigo boys who served in the latter's battalion, known as 9RAR.
Barry: One of the local blokes from here, who died, was in B Company, 9RAR. Paul Reidy.
Paul: Reidy? Yeah, actually we had a service down at his graveside this year. His family was there. It's that sort of moment that reminds you of the loss.
Paul: When you talk to the family and you listen to what they have to say, it was really emotional, what the family was saying at the graveside: how they missed him so much, and how he has now missed everything.
Barry: Well he must have only been 21, up to 24, maybe [the Advertiser has checked and Reidy was 21-years-old when he stepped on the landmine that killed him].
Barry had often wondered whether he should call Reidy's mum and introduce himself.
"I would think, 'nah, do they really want anybody interfering?'" he said.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Barry discovered 20 years ago when he introduced himself to Reidy's mother.
Paul said the family had been overwhelmed when veterans had reached out to them, this year, to ask if they were open to a commemoration service for Reidy.
The importance of remembering goes well beyond Vietnam.
Barry was wearing both his medals and the ones his father had earned serving in World War Two.
Paul: Your dad would have had some enormous stories.
Barry: Ah, he never said too much about the hard shit. He talked a lot about the silly-buggers. I never took too much notice of him early in the piece, so it was only when I came back from Vietnam that I started listening to him. But he wasn't talking much.
Barry wasn't talking either.
Paul: My old man was in the Second World War and he hated the idea of me going to Vietnam. He never forgave me. So he never talked about his stuff and I never talked about mine - which wasn't much to talk about but I was still there, and still under fire and shit.
Barry said he had returned home to find many World War Two veterans wanted little to do with him, though those who served in World War One were more open.
Yet there were exceptions. Barry related a story about his father quitting the RSL in protest, believing it had not offered enough support for a Vietnam War soldier who had attacked an officer.
It might be hard for civilians to understand something like that, Paul said.
But it was important to remember soldiers were trained to dehumanise perceived enemies, he said. The trauma they experienced could sometimes make it hard to clearly navigate certain moralities.
Barry had been trained to think of enemy soldiers as "dirty little buggers" and shunned Vietnamese Australians in the years after returning home.
Barry: But then I started going into hospitals -
Paul: Yes, I was going to say 'did you start going into hospitals?'
Barry: And there's all these Vietnamese ... and in later years I was working down in Melbourne building windows and all that at Crown Casino. There were all these Vietnamese workers there and I got to know some of these blokes. By Jeez they were good.
Paul's career had taken him into the health system and teaching, including supervising placements in hospitals.
"The number of young medicos - all these health professionals - were Vietnamese, Malaysian, all Asian, all really smart, loyal and they really strengthened up the base of our society," he said.
"We've got a level of academic achievers that we otherwise wouldn't have had."
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