Thirty-six Australian soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War and buried in Malaysia and Singapore will be brought home in June with a full military ceremony, according to an announcement on Sunday.
All but one of the soldiers lie in Malaysia’s Terendak Cemetery, inside of an operational military base. The last is in the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
In May of last year, then prime minister Tony Abbott offered repatriation to the families. More than 30 of the families have accepted the offer.
“The homecoming of their family member will be a very moving and emotional time and their right to privacy, grief and reflection have been central in the government’s planning,” said Australia’s veterans’ affairs minister Dan Tehan in a statement.
For the families that did not take the repatriation offer, the soldiers’ graves abroad will be maintained in perpetuity, as the Australian government does for all their war dead in cemeteries all around the world.
The remains will be flown back on Royal Australian Air Force planes to a military base outside Sydney on June 2. They will be received in a formal ceremony which will be followed by a private memorial service for the families.
According to Ken Foster, president of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, families have been asking for the remains to be brought home for some time now. “It was the family members who started putting pressure and raising all sorts of questions about, ‘Is there some way we can have these veterans brought home?’” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Foster added that the move would enable not just family but those who fought alongside the fallen to pay their respects. “A lot of the veterans would not be in the situation where they could go to Malaysia and visit the graves,” he said.
“Now the families will have the choice of where they’re reinterred and the local veteran community within Australia will be able to visit those graves whenever they want.”
Australian soldiers in World War II and the Korean War were usually buried near where they fell. Around the Vietnam War, the policy changed. After that, bodies were typically brought home.
Nearly 60,000 Australians fought alongside the U.S. forces in Vietnam, where 521 lost their lives. All except the 36 in Malaysia and Singapore have been brought home. This means that all those Australians who fell in Vietnam are now buried in their homeland, which is what they would have wanted.