New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark apologized to the country's Vietnam War veterans yesterday, saying it was time to lay aside the divisions that led to returning soldiers being shunned.
Many New Zealanders strongly opposed the country’s involvement in the war between 1964 and 1972, and many of the 3,400 military who served there received a hostile reception at home.
Some were turned down for jobs, anti-war protesters accused them of being war criminals and some were even spurned by veterans from earlier wars.
Clark, who protested against the Vietnam War in her youth, said in the government’s formal apology that it was time for reconciliation.
“The crown [government] extends to New Zealand Vietnam veterans and their families an apology for the manner in which their loyal service in the name of New Zealand was not recognized as it should have been,” Clark said.
“The service of those who fell and all who served in that conflict should now be honored, alongside that of other brave service personnel deployed to other conflicts in the service of our country,” she said.
“For too long, successive governments ignored concerns being raised by Vietnam veterans,” she said in the apology read to parliament.
Veterans have long campaigned for assistance to deal with health problems caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the US during the war to defoliate areas believed to be harboring opposing forces.
Late last year the government and veterans agreed on US$30 million in assistance for problems including cancer, diabetes and birth defects in children.
During the war, 37 New Zealand military personnel were killed and 187 wounded.
Former Vietnam Services Association president Terry Culley said the apology was “very moving.”
“The veterans were really let down by the government and their employer, the defense department, when they came home,” he told Radio New Zealand.
Vietnam veteran Chris Mullane, who is in charge of a series of events to be held this weekend for his comrades, said earlier that those who served in the war and their families had been victimized.