For the longest time many Vietnam veterans felt they had to keep their service a secret.

The deeply divisive conflict meant their homecoming was hostile and their efforts were not initially recognised or respected.

Today, they march with pride.

(from left to right) David Grierson OAM, Gary T H. Taylor OAM and Peter Liefman OAM
(from left to right) David Grierson OAM, Gary T H. Taylor OAM and Peter Liefman OAM

A trio of Vietnam veterans will lead the ANZAC Day March. They will stride up to the Shrine of Remembrance sixty years since the first Australians were sent to Vietnam.

We spoke to Vietnam vets David Grierson OAM, Peter Liefman OAM and Gary T H. Taylor OAM about their experiences and reflections on their service and the historic occasion.

Peter Liefman OAM

It wasn’t until after the Welcome Home Parade in 1987 when 22,000 Vietnam Veterans marched through the streets of Sydney that Peter Liefman OAM was forthcoming about his service.

Australians were reminded by the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke that: “Whatever our individual views on the merits of Australian involvement, we must equally acknowledge the commitment, courage and integrity of our armed forces who served in Vietnam.”

Peter explains his initial reticence about speaking about his time as a National Serviceman in various armoured units, including the Centurion Tanks of C Squadron during the battles of Long Khanh and Nui Le.

Peter Liefman OMA and Captian Robert Powell
Peter Liefman OMA and Captian Robert Powell

“There is a saying about ‘coming out’, which is used in a variety of contexts,” he said.

“For many Vietnam veterans, it refers to when we started telling people about our military service.”

Peter was conscripted to the Army while he was training to become a graphic designer.

“I put on the uniform at the request of the Commonwealth of Australia at the end of the War and I was there for the last few major battles.

“Like a lot of other veterans from that War, its unpopularity had an impact on me personally.

"Australia didn’t do a very good job of separating out the politics of the war from the people they were sending to serve."

Peter Liefman OAM

The experience profoundly shaped Peter’s future career choices.

He has had a distinguished career, using his military experience to help shape policies and processes to improve the lives of other veterans.

He studied Arts and Law as a mature aged student and practiced as a Barrister and Solicitor where he focused on legal representation for veterans.

He has served in various positions for ex-service organisations for more than three decades, including being part of the Returned and Services League (RSL), the Vietnam Veterans Association and Legacy. He was also appointed to Federal and State Government bodies. Ten years ago he founded VetRide, a multi-generational veterans cycling group.

For Peter, ANZAC Day remains an occasion to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of members of his family.

“My father's first cousin, Louis Liefman, served with the 2nd and 14th Field Ambulance Regiments and was wounded in action at Gallipoli,” he said.

“My father David Abraham Liefman VX66100 was a red beret paratrooper, who also saw service in New Guinea during WW2.

“My mother's brother George Fong was a bomber pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), however his Wellington was lost at sea off the coast of Palestine in 1945 and he and the crew were never found; and later in that same year my Aunt Waehlin Fong was one of the first three women to serve with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in China.”

He draws upon the words of Neville Clark at the 100th anniversary Dawn Service when asked about the ANZAC spirit.

“Courage and endurance, duty rather than entitlement, initiative and self-reliance rather than complaint and victimhood,” these are attributes that have continued to this day, and which I am pleased to see in my children.”

Peter Leifman OAM and his children
Peter Leifman OAM and his children

The eldest of his six children, Emma Liefman said she was incredibly proud of her father and was looking forward to watching him lead the March.

Supporting, recognising and remembering people who have served their country is important to the 24 year old.

"Coming together to acknowledge and pay respects to my father, members of my family and other Australians who served brings me closer to my father and to my country,"

Emma Liefman

Her father, she said was a great storyteller and a diplomat.

“Dad has always spoken to us about his experiences in a very measured, empathetic and honest way, he’s not angry about it and has sought to educate us, but not force his views upon us, which has made us curious and seek out information.

"He has taught me that while it is important to live your life and rise to challenges, taking a moment to remember the past is also important."

Emma Liefman

Understanding his service in Vietnam has also helped keep her connected to her father, even during her teenage years.

“I’ve always had this respect and empathy that my father has had these lived experiences and that has tied us together.”

Whilst she knows that many of her peers are not actively involved with recognising and commemorating ANZAC Day, she believes it’s important to take the time to mark the occasion.

“I have a strong sense of mateship, a trait that was born out of that travesty, and part of that is that we have seen dad live and breathe it. He has helped so many people selflessly throughout his life.”

David Grierson OAM

Marching alongside Peter will be David Grierson OAM.

David is a regular participant in the ANZAC Day March in Melbourne.

“When I was asked to be a March Leader, I had to hold back my initial excitement because I’m 83 and it has been three years since I marched, so I had to work out if I could still make the distance, but I think I can, so I accepted,” he said.

David Grierson OAM and his wife
David Grierson OAM and his wife

David almost always has an audience on March day; he has three sons, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His support crew, which varies depending on who can attend on the day, has a special spot, just before the veterans approach the Shrine, where they stand and wave him on.

"It’s an honour to lead the March. For me, it provides belated recognition to Vietnam veterans, which was missing for the first 10-20 years after the War, because our involvement became overshadowed by politics."

David Grierson OAM

David flew a Caribou aircraft in Vietnam, and completed almost a quarter of a century of RAAF service in both flying instruction and heavy transport flying.

He also clocked up an impressive nine years of VIP flying, where he had six Australian Prime Ministers and three generations of the Royal Family among his passengers, along with many other notables.

David also had a career as an Examiner of Airmen, an aviation safety adviser, a decade of service in the Avalon airshow, including the Group Manager of Aircraft Operations.

He has also been extensively involved with the Balwyn RSL, the Shrine of Remembrance and Legacy.

On ANZAC Day he takes time to remember the family who served before him, including his father, grandfather, great uncles and uncles.

David Grierson OAM and Air Craftman Aiden Gabriels
David Grierson OAM and Air Craftman Aiden Gabriels

My eldest son also served in both the Army and the Air Force, including operational service in the Middle East and Europe.

"My grandchildren understand that ANZAC Day is the chance to meet up with old mates and have a few drinks, but they also know the day is significant in terms of the commitment and determination their predecessors have shown."

David Grierson OAM

Gary Taylor OAM

The third March Leader is Gary T H. Taylor OAM, who was 18 when he was conscripted to the Royal Australian Navy.

“I went in as a Recruit Ordnance Artificer, which is looking after weaponry, such as torpedoes, and ammunition on board the ship,” he said.

That was 1956.

“We had 77 days of continuous training, followed by another 77 days of training.”

“We certainly learnt a lot of skills: we learnt about weaponry, how to sling a hammock, tie a bowline and do reef knots and how to darn socks.”

There was a total of 287,000 National Servicemen from 1951-1972 and there were 6,862 Navy National Servicemen.

Gary Taylor OAM and Abel Seaman Emma Christ
Gary Taylor OAM and Abel Seaman Emma Christ

"For me, it was a good experience that taught me a lot about discipline and comradeship."

Gary Taylor OAM

After his National Service he joined the Royal Australian Naval Reserves.

During his training and service he spent time on the HMAS Lonsdale, HMAS Leeuwin, HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Queenborough.

He also served as an Engine Room Artificer.

Gary was on board the HMAS Yarra, which was an Australian River-class frigate, when it escorted the HMAS Sydney to Vietnam.

Known as the Vung Tau Ferry, the HMAS Sydney, was a former aircraft carrier that was responsible for transporting thousands of troops, cargo and equipment to and from South Vietnam.

"I remember when we were anchored and I came up on deck and the captain told me to go down below. I could see smoke in the distance and the American patrol boats, which were making sure the Viet Cong didn’t stick mines on the boat."

Gary Taylor OAM

Upon his return to Australia, Gary said the sailors didn’t receive a positive reception, but he said that changed as time went by.

Gary became a technical school teacher, a role he held for 23 years.

Like so many veterans Gary’s ‘service’ hasn’t stopped. Now, he focuses on serving his community through his involvement with veteran organisations.

He is a long term member of the Mornington Peninsula National Service Association, the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia, the Naval Association of Australia and the RSL.

As a committee member and life member of the HMAS Sydney and Vietnam Veterans Logistical Support Association, Gary and his peers have fought for recognition of the health impact of Agent Orange (chemicals sprayed over the jungle to expose Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops) on Vietnam Veterans.

Gary Taylor and his family
Gary Taylor and his family

Even before he was a veteran, Gary commemorated ANZAC Day.

“I have memories of going to the Shrine to watch the first and second World War veterans when I was a boy.”

“I’ve also spoken at schools to students about the qualities of comradeship and the knowledge you gain from being in the Navy.