Time for our young heroes to shine, on a new look ANZAC Day.

April 24, 2013

For a long time, our war heroes were older.

They’d march on ANZAC Day in dusted-off jackets, with rows of medals clanking. Year after year.

Our veterans would share the same steely gaze. And a rum toddy as the sun came up.

Over time, crowds grew. Finally, as a nation, we got it. Parents and their kids lined the streets. We wanted to show this wonderful bunch what they meant to us.

Their numbers are dwindling, of course. It makes every year, extra special.

I wish Dad had been around to see the change. Things were so different when he was trying to adjust back to normal life, all those years ago. When people didn’t care as much.

He would have been amazed to see the flags waving. And all those mini-medals, worn by sons and daughters. Including his grand-daughters. Girls he never got to meet.

Something else would surprise him. The emergence of our young heroes. The men and women fighting for us today.

It’s only recently, that ANZAC Day has taken on a new look. Slowly, but surely. A reflection of a changing world.

We’ve been fighting another war for years now. Not that everyone understood that in the early days. So different from what Dad experienced. Against an insidious enemy, often hidden, in a far away land.

Those involved in these battles are not old men, carefully placed in the back of jeeps. Men we will adore, until the last one takes the final salute, to re-join his brave mates.

These modern soldiers have families just like us. They follow the footy on their i-phones. They’re on Facebook.

For a while, it seemed some were unsure of their place on ANZAC Day. They worship the men and women who went before them.

Sure, they’d be there for the dawn service, and the march, but more to help the veterans of battles done. They would wear their medals with pride, but clap loudest for others.

In the last few years, the mood has shifted. Possibly because there’s so many of them, coming back from those awful, dusty fields.

They see the public’s reaction to the likes of Ben Roberts-Smith and Mark Donaldson. Heroes, in every sense of the word. As brave as anyone we’ve produced.

I hope this new breed understands how proud we are of them. For their courage. And their sacrifices. Just like their fathers and grandfathers.

This year, save a cheer for the young heroes. After the march, shake one by the hand. Get your mum to give someone a hug. Let them know what we think of them.

Dad struggled so much with what he was asked to do. For years, he chose not to think about it.

If he was able to have a beer with me now, I think he’d see things differently. He would understand, that all those who serve deserve our ever-lasting gratitude.

The diggers of today are following our heroes of yesterday. And we’re proud of every single one of them.

A digger who missed out on the applause – why we need to cheer louder on ANZAC Day.

April 22, 2011

Dad hid his medals in a drawer.

As a kid, it was the only secret we had. We talked about everything. Shared dreams about footy and cricket. But not what he did in the war. The one subject I knew not to bring up.

I took them out once. And once only. He let me know, quietly, to never do that again. Back in the drawer they went.

We weren’t allowed to watch the big march on the ABC. And that march fascinated me. All these men, proudly wearing their medals. But not Dad.

If I’d turn it on while he was outside, he’d come in and turn it off. Nothing would be said. He just didn’t want to go back there. And didn’t want others to know.

It stayed that way until he died. Way too early. A hidden heart condition the doctors blamed on his service in World War Two. Even Dad didn’t know that secret.

I was 16. Not old enough to have asked the proper questions. Too young to let him know that it was ok to share. That maybe I could have helped.

Years later, Mum told me that she’d tried to talk to him about it. Nothing. He’d seen terrible things. It troubled him greatly. A gentle, funny, loving man, who struggled with what he’d been part of. Easier to dump the memories in that drawer.

When I started work, I was able to soak up the ANZAC spirit that Dad had distanced himself from. I’d cover the dawn service every year. Watching veterans just like my father. Listening and learning from the silence. And wishing I had him standing with me.

I’ve watched the crowds build over the years. People smarter than me talk about a nation growing up. The proof is how we mark ANZAC Day. As the number of diggers dwindle, the numbers watching surge.

It’s my favourite day. Honour those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Heroes. Later, a few beers. That first one at the RSL always tastes special. Have a go in the two up ring. Heads of course. And a punt. Just like they did.

Everyone has their favourite place for ANZAC Day. Hometown memorials are special. But for me, there’s something inspiring about being on the water.

Maybe it’s the link to that Gallipoli beach. Such horrors in the early morning light.

Our family tradition is to attend the dawn service on Surfers Paradise beach. Thousands make their way to the memorial in the pre-dawn dark. The diggers and their families marching. That shuffle of footsteps. The clink of medals. Gets me every time.

Last year, when the service was done, an old bloke remained. He was in a wheelchair, with a chest full of medals. Thick silver hair, straight back, eyes clear. He would have been a strong bugger in his day.

He was waiting for someone to collect him. But there was no hurry. Not today. He smiled at those around him. Not much was said. It didn’t need to be.

Before long, a line had formed. People of all ages, waiting patiently to shake his hand. Some took photos. Kids waved Aussie flags. One man, telling us so much, just sitting there. When I got to him, I simply said, thanks.

The beauty of ANZAC Day is that there’s always someone to thank. If you haven’t been before, find a service this year. Soak up that silence. And take your spot in the line.

Before Mum died, she gave me something precious. Those medals are finally out of the drawer. We have little replicas now. The girls fight over who’ll have them at the dawn service. And I’ll wear them with pride, while having a beer and a punt in the afternoon.

I tell myself that Dad would have worked it out if he was still around. No need to hide them any more. We’re so proud of him. He could have been the bloke getting his photo taken. Thanks, Dad.