The aim of Going Backis to show the personal aspects of pilgrimage and the reactions of former servicemen when confronting their past and their former enemy. Over 50,000 servicemen and women served in South Viet Nam between 1962 and 1972. Many of those veterans are now returning – in increasing numbers – to their former battle sites. As many of the veterans were ‘baby boomers’ they are now using their approaching sunset of their lives to go back and revisit the war zone.
The foreword for this book was written by former Deputy Prime Minister and Viet Nam veteran the Honourable Tim Fischer. He said of this book:
Dare it be written that never in the field of bringing closure to human conflict, has so much been done for so many by just one, namely Gary McKay as author of this book.
With apologies to Winston Churchill, I have amended his famous Battle of Britain declaration to salute a most vital phenomena delivered by this book, which is not just another book on the Viet Nam War or the ‘American war’ as the North Vietnamese dubbed it. It is a book delivering many examples of the bitter sweet experience of veterans returning to the very ground where they lost their legs or their mates or both.
In many ways Vietnam was a young persons’ war on all sides, helped by the National Service call up in Australia reducing the average age of soldiers in combat to around twenty one, some regular soldiers were of course ‘only nineteen’, as underlined in the very moving Redgum song.
In turn this has meant these veterans, post the Vietnam war, have some fifty years plus to live on average, and so a long time to dwell on their memories of Vietnam and all the agonies encountered.
Matching this was a huge upswing in the affordability of overseas travel, so as Viet Nam opened up its tourist industry there were many veterans curious to return and then after a taste of modern Viet Nam, and after overcoming any demons and personal emotions, they kept on returning repeatedly.
Equally those about to go back can prepare a whole lot better for that return visit to Viet Nam by absorbing the good, the bad and the ugly that is likely to be encountered.
Above all else this book will help many to gain an enhanced degree of closure, something that was never going to be easy given the way the war ended in defeat for the allies. This defeat was not so much at the hands of the North Vietnamese but at the hands of the Pentagon and various US Defence Secretaries and other strategists, who made big mistakes and even allowed the war to continue even after they had recognized they were on the wrong track.
So as Gary McKay writes, no Australian who served in Viet Nam has anything to be ashamed of, but the losses remain a big cross to bear, including those veterans who made it safely back but then died prematurely due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other ills.
For the Vietnamese, they also sustained huge losses in this curious war and will write the war their way. But bit by bit the rhetoric moves towards the immortal words of Kemal Attaturk, then addressed to the mothers of Anzac soldiers and embracing and saluting their contribution at Gallipoli.
Going back and by that process gaining closure will be greatly helped by this book, a long overdue and necessary postscript to the Viet Nam War or American War or more accurately, the Pentagon War.
2Lt Tim Fischer, AC, RL
‘What I thought I knew about the Viet Nam War didn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what the Viet Nam experience really was all about for my father and his fellow veterans … After going to Viet Nam with him, I felt I finally understood him a little better’―Kelly McKay
Going Back is a detailed and highly personal collection of the experiences of Australian Viet Nam War veterans as they journey back to the land where they once fought and lost their innocence. Veteran and author Gary McKay has travelled with and interviewed over thirty veterans, and their partners and families, who have returned to Viet Nam. Going Back records their strong and sometimes unexpected reactions to returning to a country that has in places changed beyond all recognition, and is elsewhere all too familiar. It also contains essential practical advice about travelling to Viet Nam.
An infantryman who was wounded in action and who lost several comrades during his tour of duty, Gary McKay has since travelled to Viet Nam several times on research trips for his many books on Australia's longest war. His personal experiences of going back, and those of his daughter, bring the harsh reality of returning to former battlefields onto the page for all to share.