As ANZAC Day approaches once again, I cannot help but think of the different world we live in today. My memories of this solemn day drift back nearly half a century and are of cold, dark mornings and ‘old’ men in coats, ties and hats. Bag pipes warming up in the background and my breath condensing into a mini-fog before my very eyes.
My father would stand solemnly, his medals in a drawer at home and only the dark brown “Returned from Active Service” badge on his lapel offered any insight into his two wars. In contrast, my mother always wore her medals. Regardless of how it was demonstrated, there was always reflection and a sense of pride.
Those who did not return were always remembered in our home in fading, yet framed, photos. Family, friends and even a fiancé who had made the ultimate sacrifice. As a lad, my parents would visit their widows and mothers and I would trail along, not always understanding the significance of those visits until I later foraged through a photo album and found an image, or a clipping, or an obituary. They were my first ANZAC experiences.
Today the clippings are not so frequent. Our men and women that serve in the front lines are rarely on the front page. And if they are, their faces are blurred or their name tag is blacked out. They are almost our hidden heroes.
The modern world and its blinking, instantaneous internet has taken our warriors and potentially made them, and even their families, targets. Targets for those who would commit evil and even trolls who wish to provoke and raise their profiles, typing in the darkened confines and safety of their closet.
When my father was flying missions in Korea, my mother may have excitedly seen his face in a newsreel in the cinema or read of a mission or an award in the newspaper. Each time, it would proudly state, “Phillip Zupp of Toowoomba, Queensland”. Today we may catch a glimpse of Flying Officer X with his dark, tinted visor fully lowered on his helmet, or an anonymous pilot walking around his aircraft. No names, no clues.
I realise it is a different time and a different world, but I still lament that those in our services on active duty cannot be recognised for their sacrifice in the way that they once were. Unless of course, that sacrifice is of the ultimate variety and their homecoming is marked by draped flags and lowered heads.
Perhaps more than ever, it is important that we value ANZAC Day and recognise our veterans of modern conflicts. For this may be the only time that we get the opportunity to see their faces and thank them for their service. And yes, it may be too little and too late, but we should still make a genuine effort to recognise them and stand them alongside those who stepped ashore in those early hours on April 25th more than a century ago.
To my family, my friends and to those I never knew. Thank you for your service.