Vietnam War vehicle collection brings veterans together while fundraising for charity

Vinh Tran grew up as a survivor of the Vietnam War hearing stories from his father about the different military vehicles he drove in his work as a US transport officer.

With the seed sown for a lifelong love of military Jeeps, troop carriers and Land Rovers, Mr Tran has created an impressive collection of vehicles.

He uses the vehicles for joy rides, hires them out as photoshoot props and donates the proceeds to a Vietnamese charity called Maison Chance.

“The Vietnam War was like many wars, it was very costly,” he said.

“Even 50 years on, the effect of Agent Orange is really bad in Vietnam, so I tried to find a solution to help the kids.”

Wanting to raise awareness about the issues in 2012, he drove an imported Jeep around Sydney Harbour with a sign on the back saying, “Please help my people, the kids affected by war”.

Mr Tran said the sign prompted conversations which gave him the chance to talk to Australians about the long-term impact of the Vietnam War, particularly disabilities and deformities caused by exposure to the forest defoliant Agent Orange.

“Wedding car companies contacted me to use it for photoshoots and the Army contacted me to use it for parades and events,” he said.

Since then with the help of a friend in Vietnam, who has access to old US Army vehicles, they have refurbished and imported a number of them to Australia.

Vehicle collection turns into a ‘vet’s shed’

What started as a unique way to raise funds for a charity in Vietnam has turned into something just as significant for veterans in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Members of the local Vietnam Veterans’ Association have been visiting Mr Tran’s organisation, called Military Vehicle, in Bowral and have been using the site as a men’s shed-styled meeting place.

“I call it a vet’s shed and it certainly will turn into that as it develops a bit more,” Southern Highlands Vietnam Veterans’ Association secretary and treasurer Norm Austin said.

Norm Austin leans on a military vehicle with other trucks in the background.
Norm Austin says memories from Vietnam flooded back when he first saw the vehicle collection.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

“We have a coffee morning once a week and we want to move that over here once a month so our members get to know this place a lot better.”

The veterans will also help curate the small museum at the site, which features some items donated from their own collections.

Mr Austin said the vehicle collection brought back vivid memories.

“When I came in here I was gobsmacked, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“The memories come flooding back when you see them.

“Seeing the trucks reminds me of my time in Vietnam going to Nui Dat where we were one of the first in and we didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

Four military trucks parked alongside each other with Australian flags poked into them.
Just some of the vehicles in Vinh Tran’s collection in Bowral.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

Bringing positivity and healing

Mr Tran has created a fascinating juxtaposition with his military vehicle collection.

The cars and trucks that were originally created to be used in war are now unarmed and helping raise money for the impact they had.

“The veterans served in Vietnam, and I’m a survivor, and these vehicles were all there,” Mr Tran said.

“They now bring so much positivity to us and the public, it heals veterans’ souls and hearts because they come here and call it a home.

“We all die at some stage and what’s left behind is important and this [collection] becomes a legacy.”

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