Macalisters in Viet Nam

On this day in 1973 the Peace Paris Accords were signed, officially ending the United States’ part of the Vietnam War, although the last troops did not leave for months. There were certainly Macalisters among the Americans lost in the conflict (the name appears in various forms twelve times on the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington, DC), and many others served but survived. 

But Americans were not the only Macalisters to serve in Viet Nam. Among the nearly 60,000 Australians who fought there were at least eighteen members of this clan.[1] New Zealand sent about 4,000 combatants altogether, including Squadron Leader D G McAllister and Sgt. R L McAllister.[2] Canada was officially a neutral country, but “while Canada as a nation was not involved, Canadians themselves formed the largest foreign contingent in the U.S. military during the Vietnam era”. Perhaps 12,000 Canadians saw combat in Viet Nam[3]; it is not unlikely that some of these were Macalisters. (For several reasons, details about individual Canadians who fought in Viet Nam can be difficult to find.)

All of the Australian and New Zealand Macalisters appear to have survived the war, but Vietnam veterans of these countries faced the same difficulties back at home as their American comrades. They returned to fellow citizens who were at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile to them. Veterans of their nations’ previous wars often refused to acknowledge their service and suffering. For years their governments denied that exposure to chemical agents like Agent Orange might have caused the lingering physical problems some of them faced, and so the medical help they needed was often not forthcoming. In Australia and New Zealand, as in the US, it was not until the late 1980s that the sacrifices of these veterans were recognised and they were formally welcomed home.

The experience of Vietnam vets who returned to Canada has been a bit different. The war in which they fought was not a Canadian war, and so they are not recognised as veterans in their own country. This means that many of the support structures available to other Canadian veterans are not open to them. They are not usually included in Remembrance Day events or admitted to official veterans organisations.[4] Many Canadians (and most Americans) are unaware that they even exist. It can certainly be argued that since their government didn’t send them to Viet Nam, it has no responsibility to acknowledge or reward their service there. However, the isolation of these vets and the lack of any official support have made the lot of Canada’s Vietnam veterans (and any Macalisters among them) perhaps the most difficult of all.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Australian Government Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans
[3]Fred Graffen of the Canadian War Museum, in an article that first appeared in Vietnam Magazine. It is now available on-line.
[4]Ibid. That said, there are several informative web sites operated by individual veterans of Canada’s own military which have attempted to make people aware of these veterans, and they are honoured along with veterans of other conflicts in the Canadian War Museum.

2 thoughts on “Macalisters in Viet Nam

  1. Until 1972, the (then) Australian government was busy conscripting 20-year-olds to fight in Vietnam via a lottery based on birthdays. For some strange reason, this was not very popular among my contemporaries. This might explain why Vietnam vets were (are?) not regarded with the same feelings as their fathers (WWII) and grandfathers (WWI). AS one whose number was drawn but was able to defer until the government changed, I recall the sentiment clearly — HELL NO, WE WON'T GO!

  2. I think there are a lot of factors, and they apply to most of the countries that were involved. Part of the difference is that WWII involved a very obvious threat to the English speaking world – there was a madman clearly bent on taking over everyone else, regardless of treaties or agreements, and he was doing this in Europe, which a) seemed less alien than Southeast Asia and b) we'd already invested in heavily during the first WW. Also, as you mentioned, conscription certainly didn't go over well with anyone. But it was also just a different era, and young people all over the world were questioning the priorities of the 'establishment'. They quite reasonably didn't see why they should go off and kill and die to further political aims that to them seemed rather irrelevant. Have you read Mark Kurlansky's book, '1968: the Year that Rocked the World'? It's not primarily about Vietnam, but it's very interesting in that young adults seemed to rebel all over the world that year – regardless of the system they were rebelling against. So something unusual was going on!

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