SORRY is the first thing Wally Franklin wants to say to former North Vietnamese soldiers.
During the Vietnam War, Mr Franklin experienced the worst weeks of his life, but he’s attempting to put his demons to rest with a return to the country.
The Tamworth Vietnam War veteran was a gunner with the 131 Divisional Locating Battery stationed at Fire Support Base Coral from January 1968 to February 1969 and was at the Coral during the 26-day battle of Coral. In this battle 25 men were killed.
At the height of the conflict he and a neighbouring mate had to be medivaced from the battle site due to mortars constantly falling either side of where they were dug in.
Mr Franklin said he hadn’t wanted to return to Vietnam and had to talk himself into it, after the urging of his wife Jill and fellow veteran John Drysdale.
Mr Drysdale has been back seven times – this is his eighth – and he’s in a separate tour to Mr Franklin, but did much of the organisation for his mate’s first venture back there.
He organised for Mr Frankin to visit the site where the Fire Support Base Coral was as he particularly wanted to have a beer with a soldier from “the other side”.
“It’s on my bucket list. I hope to get them out here, too,” Mr Franklin said.
“I’m pretty excited about meeting these blokes and having a beer with them.
“They dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than we dropped in any world war.”
He said he felt it was time to go back after speaking to other Vietnam War veterans who had enjoyed returning to Vietnam and felt better about the country and its people upon their return.
Mr Drysdale described his experience of returning to Vietnam for the first time as if someone had lifted a bag of cement off him.
“I felt better about myself and better about the Vietnamese people to see them doing so well,” he said.
Mr Franklin said he couldn’t blame the people in Vietnam and he had never hated them.
“They were doing what they were told and we were doing what we were told,” he said.
Mr Franklin is visiting many places he served in and will be at the Long Tan memorial tomorrow to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day.
His wife, Jill, and son, Wade, a Flight Lieutenant in the RAAF, are accompanying him, along with a number of friends.