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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visits the Vietnam Wall.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visits the Vietnam Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visits the Vietnam Wall.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visits the Vietnam Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Graham Edwards, a retired member of Australia's parliament, lost both legs to a land mine in Vietnam in 1970.
Graham Edwards, a retired member of Australia's parliament, lost both legs to a land mine in Vietnam in 1970. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard talks with Vietnam veteran Graham Edwards at the Lincoln Memorial. Edwards, a retired member of the Australian parliament, lost both legs to a land mine explosion in Vietnam in 1970, while serving with 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard talks with Vietnam veteran Graham Edwards at the Lincoln Memorial. Edwards, a retired member of the Australian parliament, lost both legs to a land mine explosion in Vietnam in 1970, while serving with 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen listen to a speaker during Monday's ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen listen to a speaker during Monday's ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces a $3.3 million donation to the Education Center at The Wall.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces a $3.3 million donation to the Education Center at The Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, presents Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with a framed piece of thed original granite used in the construction of the Vietnam Wall.
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, presents Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with a framed piece of thed original granite used in the construction of the Vietnam Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, tells Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard about the background of the Vietnam Wall.
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, tells Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard about the background of the Vietnam Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, tells Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard about the sightlines of the Vietnam Wall.
Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, tells Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard about the sightlines of the Vietnam Wall. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new education center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall moved closer to reality Monday, thanks to the people of Australia.

Speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, near the site of the proposed $85 million underground facility, Prime Minister Julie Gillard announced that the Australian government is donating $3.3 million toward the project.

“Australia, like the U.S., did learn lessons from the Vietnam experience,” Gillard said. “Above all, that we must always support those who serve us in a foreign field, regardless of our democratic differences on the decision to send them there.

“The Australians who served in Vietnam showed all the courage and self-sacrifice which their fathers and grandfathers showed in earlier wars. They did their duty, and they served their country. And the Australians who served in Vietnam deserved the nation’s embrace when they came home; they were unfortunately, denied that, and Australians are determined not to repeat that mistake.”

More than 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, and 521 of them lost their lives.

“We remember Australia’s sacrifice as we do our own,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, “and this education center will remind future generations of Australians, Americans and, indeed, every nation about the sacrifice of all those who served in Vietnam.

“Today, we mourn new losses together, including the two [Australian Defence Force] members killed last month in Afghanistan. But we also can take pride in our success and in the progress we are making together, particularly those gains made by the Afghan National Security Forces in Uruzgan, where they will soon take the lead in securing their province, thanks to outstanding training provided by Australian mentors.”

The Education Center at the Wall, as it’s officially known, will be highlighted by a display of photos of the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the war — and now, those of the fallen Australians, as well. It will also feature some of the thousands of items — boomerangs, campaign hats, unit patches — presumably left by Australians who served alongside the Americans.

Groundbreaking for the center will not begin until the full amount required for construction has been raised. According to a VVMF spokesperson, the Australian donation brings the total to about $29 million.

Gillard said the Wall “symbolizes so much about the Vietnam era for both of our countries. To enter into, reflect within and emerge from the memorial is an emotional journey for anyone. The visitor sees the names of tens of thousands of young Americans lost. She sees her own face reflected. She hears the whispers echoed, and she confronts her own thoughts.”

Among the other Australian visitors on Monday was Graham Edwards, a retired member of Parliament who lost his legs to a land mine explosion in Vietnam in 1970, while serving with 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

“I think that many Americans weren’t aware of the extent of the involvement of Australian troops in Vietnam,” Edwards said, “nor were they aware of the extent of the problems Australian veterans faced when they came home.”

Edwards called the Vietnam wall “one of the most impressive memorials I’ve ever been to. For Americans, it’s a gathering of the souls, a gathering of the herd, where people can come together and reconnect, reunite with their loved ones who were killed overseas.

“The first time I saw it, I just sat there quietly and reflected. And I think that’s what that memorial causes you to do.”

gromelskij@stripes.osd.mil

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