Fighting an unpopular war

HIS army uniform is sealed away in a shed, but Vietnam War veteran Ian Triplett has plenty of memories to share. Conscripted at 20 years of age, Mr Triplett left his job with the Richmond police force and was sent to Puckapunyal to begin training for the Vietnam War. "I was in the police force at Richmond when my lucky number came up in the ballot — or unlucky, whatever way you want to look at it," he says. After a year of being moved across the country for various infantry and military training courses, he was shipped off to Nui Dat in Southern Vietnam to assist the South Vietnam army in their fight against the North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. Mr Triplett says his memories of Vietnam itself weren't very impressive, as he was focused on doing his duty, but enjoyed five days of R and R in Hong Kong, where he was able to let his hair down with two American comrades he had befriended. "[The Viet Cong] were good at disguise," he says. "By day you didn't know them as friend or enemy. "They infiltrated the south — so someone could be your friend one day, and foe the next." He says one of the hardest things to overcome was the fact that the Western forces were unprepared for the type of warfare the the Viet Cong were very good at — creating huge underground tunnel systems. "They had hundreds of systems and tunnels that we wouldn't even be able to get our shoulders through," he says. While he says he was involved in numerous operations, Mr Triplett was not involved in the fiercest battle of the Vietnam war — the battle at Long Tan was fought around 10 months before he arrived. He was discharged from the army 12 months later and went back to his police job in Richmond, but found it too hard to re-settle and resigned from the force. After getting married he started working in stock and land at Dalgety Farmers Limited, better known today as Wesfarmers. His agricultural roots gave him a helping hand with the new vocation, having grown up on a small mixed irrigation farm on the Loddon River in Salisbury West, just out of Inglewood. "My father was a farmer but the farm was too small so I joined the police force, but then I ended up going back to my roots and interest in agriculture," he says. The Triplett family moved to Swan Hill in 1981, when Mr Triplett was relocated for work. In 1993 he left Dalgety's (Wesfarmers) to take a job at Elders Real Estate as a salesyard auctioneer. The fast talker eventually moved into land sales auctions and retired from his position as an Elders area manager three years ago, choosing to stay in Swan Hill in his retirement. "We won't be pulling up stumps from here," he says. Although Swan Hill is their home and base, Mr Triplett and his wife have recently taken to 'grey nomading' and recently travelled the central coast and the east coast in their caravan. They are currently planning a caravan trip to the west coast. In retirement he has also taken a position as vice-president of the Swan Hill & District Veterans Information Centre, and volunteers with Legacy helping war widows, which he says he gleans great satisfaction from. Extra time has been devoted to tending his garden of more than 300 rosebushes, avidly supporting the Carlton Football Club, and travelling to Bendigo and Melbourne to see his 10 grandchildren whenever he can. While he spent Vietnam Veteran's day this year watching Carlton "belt Essendon" at the MCG, he still set aside some time to remember his fallen comrades. "I'll always remember two mates killed in action over there," he says. "One was a Victorian and one was a Tasmanian who I met through training. "I remember them each Vietnam Veteran's day, ANZAC day, Remembrance Day — they especially come to mind then and I think about how much their families must miss them." Mr Triplett said that while a lot of veterans have returned to the country at some point, he has never had any desire to return. "I thought I was very cruelly done by at the time ," he says. "And when we got home there was a general feeling that it was an ugly war, and that we shouldn't have been there. "The government was influenced by the protests and the moratoriums, but that got turned around and now Vietnam Veterans are the best attended of any returned servicemen. "They finally realised that we did what we did because of government instructions." This year marks the 50th anniversary of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, and Mr Triplett insists that Vietnam veterans don't see themselves as heroes. "We were just completing a job that we had been conscripted to do," he says.

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