AT BASE: Vinh Tran at the Nui Dat Base in Bowral where the tours begin. Tours are available.

AT BASE: Vinh Tran at the Nui Dat Base in Bowral where the tours begin. Tours are available.

Built for war, but now used for love and compassion

Highlander creating an "interactive therapy" and money raiser for the forgotten of the Vietnam War

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Vinh Tran is turning Vietnam War military machines into a living museum.

They were once used as tools of war.

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AT BASE: Vinh Tran at the Nui Dat Base in Bowral where the tours begin. Tours are available.

AT BASE: Vinh Tran at the Nui Dat Base in Bowral where the tours begin. Tours are available.

Now one proud NSW Southern Highlander has turned these divisive machines into an "interactive therapy" and money raiser for the forgotten of the Vietnam War.

Serving Southern Highlands beautiful food from his Ms Pho Canteen located at The Mill in Bowral, Vinh Tran is everything the Australian way represents.

Fighting through adversity from a young age, his family made major sacrifices to improve their way of living.

"I was born in 1971. I am a survivor of the Vietnam War," Vinh said.

"I was born in the south, that is the least affected area of the war. The centre and the north have been hammered by the war.

"After the war, it was chaotic. It was a tough life in Vietnam after Independence Day in 1975.

"My father made the tough decision to send one of the children overseas, which was the oldest, my sister.

"We had a slim chance to see her again alive, but if she lived, she may end up in the US, Australia or Europe and could help us.

"She got into a refugee program with the Australian Government and became one of the lucky ones.

"She arrived in 1981 and began working straight away.

"Restaurants, anything she could do to earn money and saved it. She was 30 by this time and her English was limited, but she worked really hard.

"Finally she earned enough money to afford an application to sponsor my family.

"My brother became an architect, my second sister a doctor, I was in school. The whole family came to Australia in 1989.

"We were one of the lucky ones."

There are many military vehicles at Nui Dat Base in Bowral. It's a living museum for people to learn.

There are many military vehicles at Nui Dat Base in Bowral. It's a living museum for people to learn.

After arriving in Australia in 1989 at 18, Vinh worked hard and became a success himself. But, there was a yearning for his homeland.

"At 18 I studied an intensive English course and re-studied year 11 and 12 to get into university," Tran said.

"In two years I picked up enough English to be accepted into university.

"I just had to do it. There was no other choice. In Vietnam, you see an opportunity, you make it happen.

"I went back to Vietnam on the first of July, 2007. That was the day I was re-born.

"I was working business over there, but on my weekend spare time, I'd visit villages just to see and take in my country.

"It hit me so hard to see kids with deformities and other health problems.

"My father was a soldier in the Vietnam War, and I asked him, "What was the problem here?"

"He replied 'Agent Orange'."

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Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant chemical. It is widely known for its use by the US military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War.

"I began to study Agent Orange," Vinh said.

"60 years later children are still being born deformed due to Agent Orange.

"The kids are dying in Vietnam. They are affected by the Agent Orange from the Vietnam War.

"It's a chemical that affects generations. It affects your genes."

Vinh Tran in a jeep used in the Vietnam War. Photo: Matt Welch.

Vinh Tran in a jeep used in the Vietnam War. Photo: Matt Welch.

When returning to Australia, Vinh focused on helping the children back in Vietnam and the forgotten soldiers of the war, and he found a unique way to use the relics of war for a greater good.

He would bring war-used army jeeps to Australia in the hope to share their stories.

Creating Military-Vehicle.org, an organisation with the sole purpose to support orphans and veterans along with preserving the history, Tran hopes to create a living museum for all to enjoy, but he needs help.

"Most funds come from my shop Ms Pho," Vinh said.

"No one can believe how far I have gone with a jeep. When I take people out in the jeep, they feel so good.

"I get to show people the beautiful Southern Highlands and they know their money is being used for good.

"I tell them these stories and there are tears.

"We welcome all support, donations and volunteers.

"I would love to drive these machines each day and tell the stories, but Military-Vehicle needs help.

"We have plans to create a place for veterans to come here. Anzac Day we could serve them coffee and food.

"Then we can take them for rides in their uniforms and medals. It would mean so much to them.

"This is a healing centre for the veterans. It's all about second chances. It's a place of discipline and respect.

For people that have served, the Nui Dat Base in Bowral where the tours begin, could also be a new beginning for them also.

HONOUR: The tour goes along Cherry Tree Walk and visits the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial.

HONOUR: The tour goes along Cherry Tree Walk and visits the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial.

"I want this to be an living museum," Vinh said.

"We are not collectors, we want this to be an interactive therapy for veterans and help people.

"We want to make it like a Men's Shed. For veterans to just sit around drinking beer, it's a waste.

"We want them to be welcome here, to have an opportunity to fix the machines they used in the war, socialise, have a coffee or drink and feel respected and with purpose.

"They have a skillset. The vets who do come in love it.

"None of this will be for sale, so please don't ask. But, I would give it all up for it to become a foundation for future generations to learn from and for people who served, a place of refuge and purpose."

To book a tour with Vinh, please visit: www.visitsouthernhighlands.com.au/event/military-vehicles-tour.

Bookings are essential.

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