Imagine the surprise this week for teachers and students from Brisbane's Aspley State School, visiting the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Avenue during a foggy, bleak Canberra morning, when an unassuming chap in a long black coat stepped forward and greeted them unexpectedly.
"Good morning everyone," he said genially to the heavily rugged, beanie-clad youngsters.
"I'm Sir Peter Cosgrove, your former Governor-General.
"I fought in this war. Would you like to know a little about what happened?"
Lieutenant Cosgrove had just turned 22 and a recent graduate from the Duntroon academy when he was thrust into one of the longest conflicts in which this country has been involved.
He was immediately posted to the First Australian Regiment, which had just wound up its second tour of duty. They trained for several months in Malaya, their instructors veterans of previous jungle conflicts.
"It was excellent training in the jungle, but it wasn't Vietnam; you weren't getting shot at," he said.
"I became a reinforcement officer with the Ninth Battalion, and that was my first command of troops in combat. Then when they went home, I stayed on."
The Federal government is preparing to commemorate 50 years since Australia ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. Sir Peter Cosgrove, a decorated veteran of the conflict, will be an integral part of those commemorations in the weeks ahead, and providing commentary for an upcoming television special.
The Australian soldiers he commanded early had already been in the thick of it.
"I arrived as the new boy," he said.
"I was commanding blokes who were in their 30s, down to young fellows who were not much younger than me, 20 or thereabouts. They were a mixture of both Nashos [National Servicemen, conscripted by ballot] and regular army; about half and half."
Conscription was to become one of the most controversial elements to the Vietnam War. Names of potential conscripts were selected by a birthday ballot, where numbered wooden marbles were drawn by lottery from a barrel. The numbers on the marbles matched a secretly maintained list of birthdays.
As a young platoon commander, one of the interesting things he found was that once in country, all in fatigues, there was no distinction between the conscripts and the regular troops.
"The Nashos, first and foremost, once they were in, they said 'in for a penny, in for a pound'," he said.
"From the time they walked in the door as civilians and got their first haircut, their instructors were leading them toward one thing: to be both competent, then excellent in jungle warfare.
"In the infantry corps, it became intense. Then once they were in their battalions, of course, they were surrounded by people who had been there, done that."
After a week or two during a break from patrolling, he had become curious as to the make-up of his platoon - who were conscripts and who were regular army - and asked his corporal that question. His corporal, as it transpired, was a conscript.
"While they [the national servicemen] didn't volunteer, they were magnificent. And we got through it together."
But hundreds didn't. In all, 523 Australians died in the war against the Viet Cong and almost 2400 were wounded. Australia awarded four Victoria Crosses, the nation's highest military honour, during the war, two posthumously.
Sir Peter Cosgrove, a recipient of the Military Cross during the conflict, said many, many Australian lives were owed to the high quality of their jungle training.
"No disrespect to our American comrades-in-arms but our soldiers were very disciplined in their patrol craft; we only spoke in whispers and hand signals, never any smoking, always watchful and alert for tiny differences in smells and the way the foliage was cut," he said.
"It was because of those excellent soldiering skills in the field that the Australians were so highly respected by our enemy."
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