Barbara Curtis sat at a bus stop one day with her eight-month-old baby. A woman seated beside her began making small talk.
“When she heard my husband was in the army, she moved to the other side,” Mrs Curtis said.
It was 1966 and her husband, John Curtis, was serving as a stretcher-bearer and musician in the 5th Battalion of the Australian army in Vietnam.
He was only 18.
“It was terrifying when we flew over,” Mr Curtis said.
“About half an hour out of Vietnam we had two American jet fighters on either side.
When we looked out the window and saw them, that’s when we knew we weren’t home anymore.- John Curtis
That moment, and the many other traumatic things he saw between 1966 and 1967 have revisited Mr Curtis’ dreams over the years since his return.
He counts himself as fortunate that he did return when so many others didn’t – including Mrs Curtis’ brother who died 1968.
Like so many others, Mr Curtis struggled to return to his life in Australia.
His war memories caused two separate breakdown. One in 1982 when he retired from the army, and the other in 1997.
“We went to Melbourne for a memorial to a friend, Mick Poole. He had jumped off an APC [carrier] onto a mine. I cried the whole weekend,” Mr Curtis said.
“For three years, he just sat on the swing out the front with the dog, he didn’t talk,” said Mrs Curtis.
Ongoing counselling has helped Mr Curtis rebuild his life, but he admits, “it’s always there in your mind.”
“I always used to sit facing the doorway, I couldn’t turn my back on it. I had to be looking at it all the time.
“If it wasn’t for Barbara, I don’t think I would be here now.”
But the battle has continued for the husband and wife, in trying to bring the community to recognise ‘the forgotten war’.
Each year, on the August 18 anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, Mr Curtis organises a commemorative service at the Junee Ex-Services Memorial Club.
But every year, few turn up.
“Vietnam Veterans Day isn’t publicised like Anzac Day. Attitudes have changed, but still no-one mentions Vietnam,” Mr Curtis said.
As the president of the South West Slopes Vietnam Veterans association, Mr Curtis has tried to keep in contact with the seven other returned soldiers living in Junee.
Only three have joined the support group.
This year, Mr Curtis is hoping to see community groundswell at the memorial service, to be held in the Aurora Room from 10:50 next Saturday morning.
“All we want is acknowledgement,” Mr Curtis said.
“Spend an hour to come to the service, just say, ‘hello, we’re here to support you’.”