Prime Minister John Howard yesterday apologized to Australia's Vietnam War veterans for the lack of respect they were shown for serving in the conflict.
Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of one of the deadliest battles involving Australians in Vietnam, Howard said Australia was slow to recognize the psychological strain that many veterans suffered after serving in the war, which was highly unpopular at the time.
"We're very conscious of the lingering impact of that psychological strain," Howard said a the Vietnam War memorial in Canberra.
Australia was "not as grateful and respectful as it should have been 40 years ago," he said.
"Let me say to all of you ... that your nation honors you, your nation respects you and your nation thanks you for your courage and your commitment," he said.
On Thursday, Howard told parliament that Australia had failed to support its Vietnam veterans.
"They are owed our apology and our regrets for that failure," he said. "The very least we can do on this 40th anniversary is to acknowledge that fact."
Commemoration ceremonies were held across Australia yesterday to mark four decades since the battle of Long Tan, when a group of 108 Australian forces fought against some 2,500 enemy forces in a rubber plantation near a village of that name.
Eighteen Australians died and at least two dozen more were wounded at Long Tan, one of the bloodiest battles in Australia's decade-long involvement in Vietnam. More than 500 Australians were killed in the conflict.
Howard said the 59,000 Australians who served in the conflict had not received the recognition they deserved on their return.
The former head of Australia's defense force, General Peter Cosgrove, echoed Howard's sentiment yesterday, saying on the Nine television network that many returning veterans were "not only ignored but actually vilified."