Today is the 40th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan in which 108 Australian soldiers fought a Viet Cong force that outnumbered them 10 to one.
The battle, in torrential rain in a rubber plantation south east of Saigon, left 18 Australians dead and 24 wounded.
August 18 is now Australia’s annual Vietnam Veterans Day.
‘Best characteristics of soldiers’
Mr Jeffrey, himself a veteran of the war, told a service at the Australian War Memorial that Long Tan displayed the best characteristics of Australian soldiers.
“This epic struggle reinforced traits for which Australian soldiers have become world-renowned – courage and determination, mateship and teamwork, leadership and tenacity, compassion and humour,” he said.
“It further reinforced our international reputation as a skilled exponent of the profession of arms.”
In parliament yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard said Australia had “collectively failed” to give adequate recognition to the 50,000 Australians who fought in the unpopular war.
Later today, at the main Vietnam Veterans Day commemorative service at the Vietnam War Memorial in Canberra, Mr Howard drew parallels between Long Tan and the western front battle of Fromelles 90 years ago which claimed 5,500 Australian casualties.
Mr Howard told the service he recognised the psychological strain suffered by many Vietnam veterans from an unpopular war.
Earlier, former defence force chief Peter Cosgrove told the Nine network that Australian society had failed to address the feelings of isolation and alienation suffered by thousands of Vietnam veterans.
General Cosgrove, who was a platoon commander in Vietnam, says the failure of society to recognise the psychological effects of the veterans’ public vilification for fighting an unpopular war had to be addressed.
Mr Jeffrey said it was “to our country’s shame” that it did not recognise its Vietnam veterans until the national welcome home parade in 1987.
“We honour those who did not return and those who returned hurt in body or mind,” he said. “None should ever be forgotten. None will be forgotten, nor indeed will the families and loved ones who supported us.”
The Governor-General told the hundreds of veterans who attended the war memorial they should be proud of their service.
“Be proud of what you achieved and hold your heads high in the knowledge that you were the equal of the very best that ever went away to serve our nation, from the Boer War to the present day, and that you did indeed make a difference,” Mr Jeffrey said.
“Let us never forget.”