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Vietnam veteran Silman happily renews ties

Ken Silman, an Old Paradian and Vietnam War veteran whose whereabouts were largely unknown for almost 50 years, has made contact with the association.

In doing so, Ken has alerted the Association to the fact that another Old Paradian Vietnam veteran, David Anthony Briggs Wallis, was one of 521 Australians killed in the war - and the last Victorian to die as a result of that conflict.

Now living in Ebden on the Murray Valley Highway in the Lake Hume region, Ken, who spent seven years as a student at Parade Preparatory College from 1956, responded to the association’s public call, which featured his Christmas message to family from Vietnam back in 1970.

In truth, Ken first became aware of the OPA’s interest some 18 months ago, when it convened the first reunion luncheon of the College’s veterans in the Frank Mount Social Room by the Garvey Oval.

“I remember that I saw a story flagging the luncheon in the RSL magazine, but I couldn’t go because I was heading away,” Ken explained. “I then got a call from the Vietnam Veterans’ Victorian Branch through (Old Paradian) Jack Moore, and saw the footage of my cheerio on the association’s facebook page.”

Ken vividly recalled the recording of that film, a copy of which he has. “The film was sent back to Australia and aired on The Graham Kennedy Show,” he said. “The producers of the show tracked down the families of those soldiers featured and got them into the studio, and although my Dad had died some years before, my mother and my then fiancée Karen went in.”

Raised in West Heidelberg, in a family home not far from the Olympic village near Altona Street, Ken declared himself to be “the very first boy registered” at St Pius X Primary School on Waterdale Road. He later joined the Flowerdale campus, one of many Parade boys from the area to do so, “and we all used to catch the Ivanhoe bus to school along Edwin Street”.

“They were happy days, I had no problems at Parade,” Ken said. “I was just a student, but I was never a bad boy. I loved the sports field, I used to love getting out onto the handball court, and one of the blokes who gave me a bit of trouble back then was Allen Pollock who later won the Stawell Gift.

“Peter McKenna was also there, a grade or two above me, and I remember playing a season of footy with him.”

With the passing of his father in 1962 Ken’s plans to further his studies at the ‘Old Bluestone Pile’ were unexpectedly thwarted. In the end, he took up duties at the West Heidelberg Post Office where he worked the counter, and later resolved to join the army.

Between March 25, 1969 and April 4, 1970, Lance-Corporal Kenneth Francis Silman served with the 110 Signal Squadron. On returning from Vietnam, he pursued a career with the ANZ Bank before calling it a day.

During his wartime service, Ken remembered crossing paths with David Wallis, also of the 110. “David has since passed away, but I saw him when I was in Vietnam,” Ken said.

“He was in my unit and I’d not long been in the country when I saw him in Saigon. I remember going to see him again, only to discover that he’d gone home. I believe he got wounded in Vietnam and later died in the Repat Hospital in March 1972.”

Though David was listed amongst the Old Paradians’ Vietnam veterans, only now has it been determined that he died as a result of wounds sustained and as such is the only known former student lost in the conflict.

That veterans of all conflicts were remembered by the association meant much to Ken. As he said: “I’m very happy”.

“In looking at the website, and seeing the names of those Old Paradians who have served, only now do I realise that Parade has been around since before the Boer War. I also saw the names of those boys who served in Afghanistan where my own boy Michael has completed two tours.”

Incredibly, Ken’s kindred connection with Parade lives on through current students Blake and Joel Fitzgerald - the sons of his niece Renee (nee Silman) Fitzgerald.

During the course of the brief to-camera Christmas video of 46 years ago, Ken sends his best wishes to the love of his life, Karen. In completing this most recent interview, Ken advised that he would very much like to attend next year’s Old Paradians Association’s Vietnam Veterans Luncheon with her.

He also took the liberty of forwarding a series of wonderful photographs, from his days at Parade through to Vietnam and the present, that in part tell the whole of the Ken Silman story.

Of the 46 Old Paradians known to have served in the Vietnam War, only two – Gregory Robert Quinlan (born November 3, 1945 and now believed to be living in California) and William Paul Leahy (born December 10, 1945) remain unaccounted for.

The Old Paradians’ Association would appreciate any assistance in locating the exact whereabouts of these two men.


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