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Apology welcomed by veterans groups


28 May 2008

Apology welcomed by veterans groups

Joint release from RNZRSA President Robin Klitscher and Tribute08 Chairman Chris Mullane

The Prime Minister's apology today to Vietnam veterans and their families has been welcomed by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RNZRSA) and Vietnam veteran representatives.

The apology comes almost 43 years to the day after New Zealand's combat role in the Vietnam War began. It was announced in Parliament on May 27, 1965.

RNZRSA National President Robin Klitscher said today the apology, while directed at Vietnam veterans and their families, also acknowledged the need to give due respect to all returning service people.

"The apology will hearten all veterans who have served their country," Mr Klitscher said. "It acknowledges at the highest level the value of their contribution, and ensures that current and future personnel will be treated with the same respect.

"Nobody suggests that the hurts of the past can be completely erased by the apology of itself. What is needed is a commitment to ensuring that the situation that gave rise to this is never repeated. The Prime Minister's words and the processes now in train through the Memorandum of Understanding signal this commitment."

He said the RNZRSA would be doing its utmost to ensure that future Governments honoured that promise.

The apology, and the Tribute08 commemoration and reunion for Vietnam veterans and their families, are part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in December 2006 between the Government, the RNZRSA and the Ex-Vietnam Services Association.

Tribute08 Chairman Chris Mullane said today many Vietnam veterans have had high expectations for the apology.

"Some will be saying it's 'too little and too late'," he said. "That is hardly surprising after what they have endured, but an apology is never too late if the lessons of the past are heeded so the same mistakes are never made again.

"This apology breaks new ground, not merely because it is the first apology of its type presented in Parliament, and by a Prime Minister, but also because this added gravitas is necessary to redress what was a long time in coming. Its real value is not just in the words contained, but more in the provisions of the MoU which have made a start to underpin its significance."

In two days, about 2500 Vietnam veterans and their families will gather in Wellington for Tribute08.

"For them to know that the Prime Minister has delivered a historic apology to them in Parliament will be welcome news, even though an apology of itself cannot heal the physical, mental and social wounds suffered by veterans and their families," Mr Mullane said. "It is significant that the Prime Minister has taken personal responsibility for it and that it was read in Parliament. After all, that is the place from which service people were sent to the war and where so much of the political history of the war, and the entrenched denial of much of it in the period since, has been played out."


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