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Vietnam war dead buried in Malaysia, Singapore return to Australia
[SYDNEY] The remains of Australian troops killed in the Vietnam War and their families were returned to Sydney on Thursday in a formal military ceremony, half a century after being buried in Malaysia and Singapore.
Thirty-three bodies, interred in Malaysia's Terendak Cemetery and Singapore's Kranji War Cemetery, were brought home in flag-drapped coffins on two Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft.
Almost 60,000 Australian military personnel fought alongside the United States in Vietnam, with 521 losing their lives. All remains were returned to Australia, except for 36 in Malaysia and Singapore.
In May last year, then prime minister Tony Abbott offered repatriation to the families, with the bodies of 25 servicemen, including 22 soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, and eight dependents now back to Australia.
The other three soldiers died in the fight against communist insurgents in Malaysia, according to the Army Museum, which oversees Terendak Military Cemetery.
The ceremony at Richmond air force base near Sydney, marking one of the biggest single repatriations of Australian servicemen, was attended by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, Vietnam War veterans and the families of those who died.
"Today's ceremony is an opportunity to commemorate the sacrifice of the men and women who serve in our armed forces and the families who support them," Defence Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
"For the families of those whose loved ones are returning to them and the veterans and mates who served alongside them, I hope today will bring some solace and closure."
The director of the Office of Australian War Graves, the government agency that organised the repatriation, said it was an emotional time.
"(People will be) extremely happy that the 50 years of waiting has finally come to fruition," Ken Corke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"But equally for some, the grief is as raw today as it was 50 years ago. And for some of them, they will find it a very difficult day."
Private memorial services were to follow the military ceremony.
Australian soldiers killed in World Wars I and II and the Korean War were buried near to where they fell but around the time of the Vietnam engagement this policy changed and bodies were usually brought home.
This year also marks half a century since the Battle of Long Tan, which took place in August 1966 and was Australia's costliest day in the Vietnam War, with 18 soldiers killed.