As recently as only 10 years ago Anzac Day for many people, especially the young, was simply seen as a holiday - a day off - more a day for returned soldiers to commemorate the service and sacrifices of their compatriots who died during time of war.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s Anzac services were occasionally targets for protesters angry at this country's participation in the Vietnam War.

I remember one harrowing scene from a service in Wellington where someone actually tried to burn the New Zealand flag.

It was perceived that such memorial services were commemorating war - which was way off the mark as they were clearly commemorations of the sacrifices made for freedom by so many people, many of them far too young to have lost the most important possession they had, their lives.


But one of the musical sages of that era, Bob Dylan, pretty well sums up what has since transpired through the years, particularly within the past decade - The Times They Are A-Changing. Indeed, and they are changes which bring smiles to the faces and warmth to the hearts of veterans, and of the Returned Services Association as a whole.

Young people have begun embracing Anzac Day, and that is worth commemorating in itself, because they are learning about a unique, colourful, tragic and memorable part of our nationhood.

I have seen it for myself at the dawn parades - the small faces with still slightly tired eyelids watching intently - with curiosity and wonder. And they ask questions of mum and dad, and grandfather and maybe even great-grandfather.

I've also seen some youngsters wearing the medals of a passed family member, and they wear them clearly with pride. There are no show-off gestures or fiddling with them - they were earned with great bravery and merit, and these kids know that.

And a couple of years ago I came across three young guys in their late teens who were dressed, shall we say, rather roughly. But they all wore poppies and when I rather (in hindsight) unkindly suggested they were on their way home from the night before one said no, it was the third year they had been to the dawn service. One's grandfather had served in Italy during WWII.

Anzac Day will, I hope, never become a forgotten day or a simple "holiday" - not while these young ones embrace it.

As Vietnam veteran Peter Grant said to me this week - "makes you proud to be a Kiwi".