Anzac Day 2019: Vietnam veteran Rod Harris calls for better care for ex-military personnel

"The price of war does not end at the battlefront."

That, says Jervois veteran Rod Harris, is why governments at all levels must do more to smooth the transition from active service to civilian life.

Generations of veterans - not only those who served in Vietnam, as he did, but those deployed to more recent conflicts - should not have to "justify" their physical and mental injuries in order to earn compensation, he said.

His own experiences included laying an ambush along a track recently used by about 200 enemies as part of a platoon of just 27 men within the Royal Australian Regiment's 4th Battalion.

"We lay there for hours, not knowing what to expect, with the chance that we would be fighting a vastly larger force," he said.

"It was no surprise we were extremely anxious during that action."

His platoon suffered no casualties when the trap was sprung, but the memories of such moments still accompany him.

Like many of his brothers in arms, his return from the battlefront was jarring.

A crowd threw red paint and spat on members of his battalion as they marched through the streets of Townsville upon their return.

"I remember people booing us as we marched by," he said.

"Some of us felt like breaking ranks and retaliating, but our sergeant just said 'keep marching, boys - they can't help their ignorance'."

The RSL played an important role for modern veterans just as it had 50 years ago, he said, providing welfare, advocacy and friendship.

"A lot of non-service people come into RSLs because they know they'll be made welcome," he said.

"You won't get that mateship and camaraderie at most pubs."

On Anzac Day, he said, RSL members and all Australians commemmorated every person who had ever signed up for the armed services or paid the supreme sacrifice to preserve the nation's freedom.

"We owe this to them," he said.

Mr Harris joined the army because his father, a World War Two veteran and the son of a World War One veteran, had said he would not make the grade.

If anything, the former infantry Corporal said he regretted not staying in uniform beyond 1978 and making a career of it.

Heroes are all around us

By the time these words are read, hundreds of Anzac Day dawn services throughout Australia and New Zealand will have come and gone.

Veterans, their families and friends and community members will be swapping yarns over an egg and bacon sandwich at the local RSL or soldiers' memorial hall.

A few thousand tots of rum will be added to tea and coffee to fend off the morning chill as we listen to stories of those who have gone in harm's way to defend our freedom.

Among them will be World War Two veterans, Korea and Vietnam War veterans, East Timor, Iraq, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan veterans.

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