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Thanks to Those Who Served in Vietnam

John Key MP
National Party Leader

28 May 2008

Text of Apology and Thanks to Those Who Served
in Vietnam

Parliament House

I rise today to support the apology from the Crown and to offer the gratitude and thanks of the National Party to those New Zealanders who served in the then-Republic of Vietnam. I also offer our apologies to them and their families for the failure of the Crown to properly acknowledge or address the results of their service in a toxic environment in Vietnam.

Over the eight years' involvement of the New Zealand force, nearly 3,260 New Zealanders served in Vietnam. Some 37 were killed in action and nearly 200 were wounded. At the height of New Zealand's involvement in the war, in 1968, 540 New Zealand troops were deployed.

New Zealand has not treated these veterans well. The service they carried out in the name of this country has often gone unacknowledged or been conveniently forgotten. At times, some people showed outright hostility towards them. More often, the personal legacies of their service, for both them and their families, was ignored or denied.

They have had to suffer the indignity of two reports - the Reeves report and the McLeod report, both of which reached conclusions that all veterans knew to be wrong. These reports were factually incorrect, fatally flawed, and deeply offensive to many veterans.

I wish to state for the record that National rejects those reports as a basis for policy-making now or in the future.

In 2004, Parliament's Health Select Committee finally acknowledged what had been long denied - that New Zealand service personnel serving in South Vietnam had been exposed to a "toxic environment"; and that that toxic environment had had a detrimental effect on the health of those veterans and on the health of their children. I would like to acknowledge the role my colleague Judith Collins played in pushing for that Select Committee inquiry.

I also wish to acknowledge the role that John Masters played in reaching the point we are at today. John was the last commander of 161 Battery in Vietnam, and it was his perseverance, and finally the map he produced, that proved that New Zealand service personnel had been exposed to defoliants in Phuoc Tuy Province. Without his hard work, the findings of the inquiry would not have happened.

Today, as a direct result of that inquiry, veterans and their families are here to receive a formal apology for their mistreatment. But they are also here to remember and commemorate New Zealand's role in a difficult war, and to allow us as a country to finally say thank-you to those who served when called upon.

It is also a time for us to remember the 37 New Zealanders who died in the service of their country in Vietnam, and the 600 or so service personnel who have passed away in the intervening years.

Vietnam was a war that divided New Zealand, and the period was one of bitter sentiment from some towards those who served. But the New Zealanders who were asked to serve in this war were not responsible for the decisions taken by politicians at the time, and they should not have been treated as though they were.

So, to the members of Victor and Whiskey Companies of the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment; to 4 Troop New Zealand Special Air Service; to the members of the New Zealand joint services medical team; to 161 Battery Royal New Zealand Artillery Regiment; to the Royal New Zealand Engineers; and to those other New Zealand service personnel who served attached to units of the Australian and United States military, we finally say sorry.

New Zealand had a responsibility to these people. They were asked by their country to do a dangerous job, and they did so with honour and dignity.

The treatment they received, both in Vietnam and then in the years after their return to New Zealand, was unfair and unacceptable.

I hope that this apology, and the acceptance finally that New Zealanders were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, will go some way to making up for our previous failings.


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