Honour the fallen by living

ANZAC DAY: Vietnam veteran Nick Williamson has a rich history of armed forces in his family, and remembers those fallen each year.
ANZAC DAY: Vietnam veteran Nick Williamson has a rich history of armed forces in his family, and remembers those fallen each year. Nadine Kennedy

NICK Williamson only wears his suit for three occasions; weddings, funerals and on Anzac Day.

He served in the front lines in Vietnam as a young 21-year-old and those few years shaped the rest of his life.

“There were periods of boredom interspersed with... I'd be lying if I said I didn't get dirt under my fingernails trying to get closer to the ground,” he said.

“We lost a lot of good fellows over there. In my unit there was 18 dead; 18 of our fellows died and they were all young, all early 20s.

“I remember I was due to come home a bit before the battalion came home and Mike Jeffery called me up to his tent and we had a little tilly lamp on a little card table in this old tent and he sat me down and tried to talk me into staying for the last couple of months ‘cause he was worried about the young fellows getting into trouble in the bush.

“And I just told him, I said ‘sir, for a $109 a fortnight it's not worth it, what I'm doing'.

“While I was still sitting he just stood up and saluted me and we shook hands and that was that.”

He said at the time he thought he was a man, but with the experience of age he realised how young he really was.

“When we were there we all thought we were men,” he said.

“When my son went over the first time he went to East Timor when it blew up and they went in on landing barges and there was shooting and all the buildings were burning down; he was only 21 then when he went to Timor the first time... and I looked at him then and I thought we were men but we were just young boys.”

On Anzac Day he remembers not only those who lost their lives fighting for Australia, but also those who returned home with scars not visible to the eye.

“That's the way you're trained in the army, you're trained to think you're invincible and strong,” Nick said.

“There's a lot of people that survived the war physically but didn't survive it mentally. I had a few good mates who committed suicide soon after they came back.”

Nick's family has a strong tradition of being in the armed forces; his grandfather and father served and his son Ben joined the army seven years ago and is currently serving in Afghanistan.

“When I was a young bloke I remember my dad... he was a prisoner of war for three-and-a-half years in Singapore I remember he'd take me to the RSL and they'd say the ode,” he said.

“I didn't know what that meant but you always remember as they were, little blonde kids, young... you don't look at them as old grey haired fellows like me.”

Nick counts himself lucky and has travelled to Anzac Day services around the country in the 40 years since returning home from Vietnam.

He started his own tradition to remember those he served that were not as lucky as him.

At each cenotaph he leaves a wreath and a list of the men who served and died with him in his battalion, The Grey Eight.

Nick understands it can be difficult for the younger generation to understand how to honour the lives of those who have fallen.

During an Anzac Day service several years ago, a young couple asked him how they were supposed to honour those who had fallen, coming from a generation that had not lived through a war.

He told them the answer was simple: “Just live your life well.”

“Follow the law of the land, honour your parents and be true to yourself.

“That's what I do.”

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