By Melissa Sheil
KALAMUNDA RSL president and Vietnam War veteran Geof Irvin has no shortage of medals, and on Australia Day he received one more.
The Australia Day Medallion was presented to Mr Irvin by RSLWA for his extensive voluntary work sharing the Anzac mission to young people in schools across the City of Kalamunda and sponsoring children in the special education department at Kalamunda secondary and primary schools.
“It’s not why we do it, but it never hurts to get a celebration and a fuss,” Mr Irvin said.
“One of the girls we sponsored last year, we organised for her to go to a special ball in the City as a graduation present.
“We got the dress and the limo and she ended up winning belle of the ball and was thrilled.
“That’s why we do it.”
Arranged by Mr Irvin, Kalamunda RSL sponsors two students of the special education department each year in various activities – sometimes providing uniforms if their parents couldn’t afford them and staying in touch after graduation for extra assistance if needed.
“I’m currently looking to find that same girl a job,” Mr Irvin said.
“Those kids are absolutely brilliant, they raise money for us in turn by selling handmade items and tidy up our gardens.”
Mr Irvin tries to get out to speak at the 30 schools in the area a few times a year, in addition to his Remembrance and Anzac Day visits.
“When I go into primary schools, kids usually ask me three questions: how old am I, (I get eight of them to stand up and add their ages together to get the answer); how did I get my medals; and what was it like in the war,” he said.
“I’m actually there to talk about comradeship, trust and loyalty.
“I look out at the young kids and see our future, I look at their parents and see the present, and I look in the mirror and see the past – we have to focus on the future but we can’t forget about the past either.
“It’s my job to keep the Anzac spirit alive, not for war mongering but for respect and remembrance.”
Mr Irvin left Vietnam in December 1971 having served in the RAAF 9 Squadron as a helicopter crew chief for a year, winching soldiers in and out of the field to safety.
“Saving lives was more important to me than anything,” he said.
“I’ve reunited with a guy I winched to safety who had about 21 bullet holes in him and only just made it.
“In 2017 I returned to Vietnam for closure and met a soldier from the other side who shot at one of my mates.
“We left Vietnam almost 50 years ago, when I was 21.
“It feels like its only been 10 minutes.”
He is very grateful to be able to spend time with his family and grandchildren.
“I’m so lucky to be here – I’ve been at war, had cancer and septicaemia,” he said.
“I’ve used up all my lives but the Good Lord said no, go back and help others.
“So that’s what I’m doing.”