Teresa Tran had not been born when the Vietnam War began, but she is all too familiar with the years that followed.
The Wollongong accountant is a former Vietnamese refugee whose family fled the country when she was a teenager in the 1980s, gambling their lives on a leaking boat to escape the communist regime.
Now, 50 years after the first Australian units arrived in the country, Ms Tran and other members of Wollongong’s Vietnamese community are extending their lasting thanks to Australia’s Vietnam veterans.
‘‘Even though the war was ended in 1975 with the communist victory ... we never forget the sacrifice of the Vietnam veterans and their families ... to protect that part of the world free from the communists for almost 20 years,’’ she said.
In the years after the war, Ms Tran said she was denied a basic education at home because her father had served the South Vietnamese Government.
He spent five years in a ‘‘re-education camp’’, leaving her mother with four children and no job.
She speaks about Australia’s involvement in the decade-long conflict in the years before with passion and emotion.
‘‘I know that some families lost husbands or fathers and children,’’ she said.
‘‘They may not feel that those men went there for a purpose but to us they did [go] there for a purpose and to me their presence in Vietnam during the Vietnam War was just and right.’’
Gratitude was not always the sentiment Vietnam veterans received in the years after the conflict.
But Vietnam Veterans Illawarra president Peter Mitchell said the thanks of the Vietnamese community here was meaningful even 50 years later.
He also believed it would be important to the widows and families of veterans who were among the 521 Australians killed in the conflict.
Mr Mitchell was conscripted and served as a national serviceman from 1968-69.
‘‘For the Vietnamese community to say we are proud of you and you’ve done a great job, you think well it makes it all worth while, you feel there was a purpose in us going,’’ he said.
The Vietnamese community in Wollongong has invited veterans, their families and friends to a special dinner next month to mark the 50th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in the war.
The event will be held at Dapto Ribbonwood Centre on August 25. Tickets cost $30 with all proceeds to go to Wollongong Legacy. Call 0408446561 for information.