Ron (pictured holding the shield) and Ailsa Vernon have become synonymous with the ANZAC Friendship Game in Vietnam. Each year, Ron shares insights on the difficulties facing soldiers on both sides of the Vietnam War. Its an experience that makes the hairs on your neck stand up, for Swans both new and old.
We sat down with Ron for an interview in the lead up to the 2018 game between the Vietnam Swans and the Thailand Tigers.
Ron, can you summarize your involvement in the Vietnam war?
My experience was somewhat different to most others. I was permanent Air Force, in communications. We did not get to form close cohorts as we worked shift work, there were not many of us and they rotated between Nui Dat and Vung Tau. Sport and entertainment and social projects helped integrate us with local people and other services.
I left the country during the Tet Offensive and had little time to reflect on the political and personal effects of the war until many years later.
Ailsa, what did you make of Ron’s time here?
Ron had previously spent time in Ubon, Thailand and on his posting back to Melbourne, he met me when I was in the WRAAF. We were engaged prior to Ron’s Vietnam posting, and married on his return. Being in the Service, I was always up to date with the war and first hand information as servicemen returned regularly. It was a long year with so many letters, and one phone call from Hong Kong when he was on R&R.
Ron and Ailsa, when did you head back to Vietnam?
It was forty years later before Ron was able to return to Vietnam and see the country in a different light. The first trip was a tour which included Vung Tau, only because we insisted. The tour left Ron unsatisfied, needing more time to see more of the city and the people. We returned the following year wanting to do something to make a difference to the lives of kids.
How did you become involved with the Centre for Protection of Children in Vung Tau?
Glenn Nolan introduced us to the Centre for Protection of Children in Vung Tau. We returned home and canvassed support from family and friends to raise money to start a kindy for the young children. These kids are now teenagers and doing very well. These children are all either orphaned, surrendered to the centre or abandoned but now see the Centre as home and the others as family.
What’s your involvement now?
Although unable to contribute physically, we continue to visit and introduce visitors, and support the many projects. The Vietnam Swans are one of the groups who visit and support the Centre each year and their visit usually brings ice creams and snacks which the kids love.
What have been some of the highlights of your involvement?
It’s hard to isolate highlights as there are so many special and moving moments. It is just an absolute blessing to see the lovely teenagers developing and showing what is ahead for the tiny ones just starting. Regrets are you can only do so much and you cannot help everybody but you can sure try.
You guys have become a huge part of the Friendship Matches enduring success, but how has it’s development affected your time in Vietnam?
We missed the first year and were really excited to hear about it, so next visit we made sure we were here. We plan our annual visits to be here each year. The first year our son Brad played his first game of footy on the same oval his dad played on during the war. This meant a great deal as a family. Ron’s footy matches on the Lord Mayors Oval and the camaraderie shared with other teams in after match functions was so memorable.
Over the years, the Swans and visiting teams have built and carried on a great tradition. The McMillan Dinner and Middleton Address are super important parts of that the tradition.