This week in Australia we had the Anzac Day holiday just after Easter. At its best its a time of rembrance of the personal stories of the men and women who fought in past wars and how healing of even the most terrible wounds is always possible.
The story below illustrates this innate human capacity..
Mental scars of Vietnam War healed through multicultural friendship between veteran and restaurateur
When Vietnam veteran Ben Morris moved to Wollongong, he did not expect to rent a house owned by a Vietnamese refugee and form a life-long friendship with him.
When Mr Morris and Trinh Hung Phat sit down at Trinh’s Vietnamese restaurant in Wollongong to catch up, they share stories, a plate of spring rolls and a few beers.
It is a lifetime away from the violence and trauma of the Vietnam War that connects the two men.
For Mr Morris, he was an Australian platoon commander serving in the war in the late 1960s, while for Trinh, his father-in-law fought for the Vietnamese.
“I knew where Cabramatta was, but I’d actually spent my time post-Vietnam talking to Australian Vietnam veterans.”
That all changed when he moved to Wollongong and found a suitable rental which happened to not only be owned by Trinh, but he was also the next-door neighbour.
Mr Morris said the friendship blossomed when Trinh started lending him various household items.
“He lent me a lawn mower, a whipper snipper and a barbecue because he said he only used the barbecue on two days of the year — Easter and Australia Day.”
“I take an interest in gardening and Trinh took all surplus produce and brought it up here.”
Ben Morris and Trinh Hung Phat are the focus of a mini documentary by Wollongong-based Why Documentaries and the Multicultural Communities Council Illawarra.
In the film, Mr Morris reflects on his involvement in the Vietnam War, which he said including accidentally shooting unarmed women and children who were bamboo pickers.
“Once you’ve taken that life, that’s the end of it and you can’t give it back,” he said.
His friendship with Trinh has helped treat Mr Morris’ mental scars, and he said the Vietnamese man’s positive outlook on life was both remarkable and characteristic of many Vietnamese people he had met since the war.
For Trinh, his focus since arriving in Australia in 1985 has been to establishment a comfortable life for his family.
He has operated a Vietnamese restaurant in Wollongong since 1993, which Mr Morris said had become a favourite for many Vietnam veterans.
“At the moment in Vietnam, everyone is forgiving and when the war finished, everyone coming up young now have more freedom,” he said.
“My home town in Saigon is a big city and we can go anywhere and enjoy the country.
“The people now have moved forward, they’ve built a country, where before they couldn’t go anywhere.”
Unlike many Vietnam veterans, Mr Morris has returned to Vietnam several times since the war.
“My biggest fear was that the Vietnamese would hold it against me that I shot up these people, but they’re most forgiving, kind and loving people I’ve ever met,” he said.
Mr Morris is about to embark on his next journey — moving to Victoria so he and his wife can continue their studies.
He said while he may not see his Vietnamese friend so often, there is a standing invitation for him to come and stay with him for a visit.
“I hope to be friends with Trinh until I die and maybe in his Buddhist heaven and my Catholic heaven, we might meet there too for a beer and spring rolls,” he said.