John Miller has never been to war. In fact, he wasn’t even in the army.
But every ANZAC Day for the past decade, he wakes in the dark, pins service medals to his chest, and carrying the Australian flag leads a parade of veteran soldiers up Faulkner Street and into Central Park for Armidale’s Dawn service.
It’s an honour he takes very seriously, for every time he makes that journey he doesn’t march alone.
John wears the medals of fallen serviceman Billy Brett.
And it is Billy’s flag that John carries at the front of the parade each year.
Private William Brett was killed in 1967 during the Vietnam War.
After Billy’s death, the family was presented with an Australian flag to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country.
Years later, the family donated the flag and Billy’s medals to the Armidale Memorial Ex-Services Club.
In 2006, the then club president and Vietnam veteran Doug Lennox assigned the club’s cellarman John Miller the duty of wearing Billy’s medals and carrying his flag after John expressed an interest in Billy’s story.
The following year the pair opened a memorial to Billy and to those who served in Vietnam in the entrance foyer of the services club.
“It’s a tribute to them,” John said.
“For our freedom … if those fellas didn’t do what they did for us then our country wouldn’t be the way it is today.”
In recent years John’s sons Toby, 11, and Jacob, 8, march alongside him at the front of the parade.
And in time, John hopes the boys will choose to take up the legacy so Billy’s memory remains a presence in the community.
“Hopefully, one day when I’m too old and buggered, if one of them lives in Armidale, they will be able to take it on,” John said.
“As long as we don’t forget.”
On Armidale’s Central Park War Memorial Fountain, a plaque stands as a reminder of Billy’s sacrifice.
In the coming months the plaque, along with others on the fountain, will be moved to sit alongside the fountain as the war memorial is restored to its original World War I heritage status.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Billy’s death and John hopes the town will commemorate the occasion.
John and the flag were both present at the Vietnam Day service last month and along with members of Billy’s family.
"It would be really great if the town would hold a service next year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Billy’s death,” John said.
“I know it means the world to them [Billy’s family] that Billy’s memory is not forgotten."
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