INTERNET MUDSLINGING IN THE VETERAN COMMUNITY
I have recently been made aware of an email that is apparently circulating
in the veteran community, which does a number of things that I find offensive. It attacks a friend of mine, Bob Gibson, on
multiple levels. On the basis of no evidence whatsoever it questions Gibbo’s service, and the service of his D &
E Platoon colleagues, in the battle at Fire Support Base Coral in May 1968. It insults Gibbo, and by inference also insults
me, for our participation in the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade in 1986, which this vicious email describes
as a “junket.” It also, remarkably, attacks Gibbo just for having the nickname “Bomber.”
I participate in a number of veterans’ internet forums, and I’ve
noticed that from time to time they tend to descend into this kind of meaningless ad
hominem attack. Usually I stay right out of them, but this one is different. This one is so baseless and so personally
insulting to so many people that I feel compelled to respond.
First, let me say that when you have been involved in the veteran community
as long as Gibbo has, you don’t need to answer to anybody. Your actions speak for themselves. I am responding to this
particular email because it casts aspersions on people who have made significant contributions to the veteran community, and
it questions the service of other veterans in the Vietnam War.
Let me begin with the subject of Gibbo’s service with D &
E Platoon at FSB Coral, and the extraordinary suggestion that he was not entitled to attend the Coral 40th anniversary
reception at Parliament House. This is what the email says:
We know he managed to secure an invitation to the Coral celebrations
held in Canberra last year, and can only surmise that he lied his way in.
As with every other aspect of this email, this statement offers no substantiating
evidence, and displays an ignorance of the facts. The reception at Parliament House was an invitation-only event. It wasn’t
something you could buy tickets to, and it wasn’t something you could “lie your way into.” Invitations were
sent to veterans of FSBs Coral and Balmoral based on unit records.
In the many years I have been involved in the veteran community, I have
seen a lot of internal bunfights. Some of them were serious, most of them petty. In all of those years however, the spectre
of Australian infantry veterans denigrating the service of other Australian infantry veterans is something I have never seen
until this vicious email came to my attention. The email suggests that, just because he served in D & E Platoon:
Bob Gibson spent his tour of duty doing nothing more than picking up
cigarette butts and painting rocks- and … he had little, if any, actual infantry experiences in the war.
The email also includes a more general attack on the service of all
D & E Platoon veterans, referring to “the sedentary D & E Platoon,” and suggesting that D & E Platoon
was made up of soldiers “found wanting in the jungle as infantrymen, and best suited to kitchen duties.”
Again, the author of this email displays his ignorance of the facts.
When the NVA broke through the 1RAR perimeter at Coral and did such terrible damage to the 1RAR Mortar Platoon, D & E
Platoon was all that stood between them and the 1ATF command post bunker. I have never read, or heard, any suggestion that
D & E Platoon did anything other than hold their ground that night, in the best tradition of the Australian Infantry.
On the subject of D & E Platoon, I have some personal experience
to call on. In 1966, I was temporarily detached from 8RAR to be a member of D & E Platoon for Exercise Barra Winga. That
platoon was chosen entirely from 8RAR, and comprised only the most experienced soldiers the brand new battalion could provide.
The quality of that platoon made me proud to be a part of it.
In 1986, six Australian veterans, including myself and Bob Gibson, paid
our own way to the US to attend the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade. We did so, in spite of the fact that we
were broke and not exactly in the best of health, because the event was something we strongly believed in. When we returned
to Australia, we immediately set ourselves to the task of organising a Welcome Home Parade in Australia. The rest, as they
say, is history. Here is what the author of the vicious email says about our efforts:
‘Bomber’ is a hero to some folk in the U.S. as well. Got
himself invited to the Chicago ‘Welcome Home’ Parade where he was warmly received as an Aussie hero infantryman
from the war. Of course, just how he managed to get there poses some interesting questions- just one of the junkets some members
of the VVAA managed to score in the early days of that movement. Good ol’ ‘Bomber’ got in for his chop.
Once again, the author of this diatribe displays a remarkable ignorance
of the facts. The Chicago trip had nothing to do with the VVAA. It was a group of six individual Australian Vietnam veterans
travelling at their own expense. I fail to see how a self-funded trip to Chicago could possibly be described as a “junket.”
As for Gibbo “getting himself invited” to Chicago, he was invited because several years earlier, again at his
own expense, he had travelled to America to visit relatives, and while travelling around the US, he established life-long
friendships with American veterans. The six of us were able to go to Chicago because Gibbo was invited. Australian Vietnam
veterans organized a Welcome Home Parade in Sydney in 1987 because Gibbo was invited to Chicago in 1986.
Another part of the vicious email suggests (again without providing
any evidence) that Bob Gibson has, at some unspecified time and place, claimed to be an ASIO spy. I have known Gibbo for nearly
30 years, and have never heard him claim to be anything he is not. But the real question that needs to be asked is who on
earth cares if anybody ever claimed to be an ASIO spy?
What really made me want to respond to this attack on Gibbo was the
disparaging reference to one of his nicknames, “Bomber.” The email says:
Finally, there's always that other nagging question- why would you call
As far as I am aware, Bob Gibson is known as Bomber Gibson because he
grew up in a small town where his father was known as Bomber Gibson. The author of the email admits that he has never met
Gibbo, and he clearly knows nothing about his family history or the origins of the “Bomber” nickname. I fail to
understand what would make anybody think they have the right to insult a person they have never met, based on a nickname whose
origins they know nothing about.
In my opinion, these comments: about everybody who ever served in D
& E Platoon; about those who worked so hard at great personal cost to give Australian Vietnam veterans a Welcome Home
Parade; and about a man who wears with pride his late father’s nickname, represent a new low in the level of what passes
for “debate” on the internet these days. They certainly reflect more on the author of the email than those who
are its targets.