Alex Jesaulenko. Picture: The West Australian/Steve Butler

Australian football legend Alex Jesaulenko has hailed the national game's role in boosting the Anzac legend after attending what he said was the most emotional dawn service of his life.

Speaking to The Weekend West after the service at the Long Tan Cross yesterday, near Vung Tau in southern Vietnam, Jesaulenko said the AFL's Anzac Day games had become a key educational tool, particularly for Australia's youth.

"The publicity around it certainly helps the younger ones especially to understand what it's all about," Jesaulenko said.

"We shall remember them, lest we forget ... the reality of it all is starting to hit home to a lot of Australians.

"The more footy builds on it, the better it is for the message. It's a special day and it is getting bigger and bigger.

"It's the younger ones who are starting to embrace the tradition now and starting to remember what Anzac means and who the Anzacs were."


Jesaulenko said he reflected gratefully that his number was not drawn in the ballot to go to fight in the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

"My marble didn't come out," he said. "We were all waiting and if it had to be, it had to be.

"But war is not good at any time with the uncertainty of whether you're going to come back."

Jesaulenko, who is of Ukrainian descent and is deeply saddened by the upheavals in that country, was moved by yesterday's Long Tan service.

The Long Tan Cross is the only official Australian wartime memorial allowed in Vietnam.

Australian consul-general John McAnulty said the crowd of 900, who included 18 students from Girrawheen Senior High School, was the biggest ever at the service.

"Very touching, very touching," a clearly affected Jesaulenko said. "I just looked around at the people there who were just so solemn and emotional."

Jesaulenko has in the past two days been signing photographs of his famous 1970 grand final mark - arguably the most famous in the history of the game - to raise money for the Swim Vietnam program tackling child drownings.

Tonight, he will deliver what has become the annual Middleton Address after a "friendship game" of Australian Rules between the Vietnam Swans and Malaysian Tigers.

The match is just one of five games being held at the weekend by AFL Asia.

The others include the Pakistan Markhors playing their first match against the Thailand Tigers, at Kanchanaburi near Hellfire Pass, the Borneo Bears against the Indonesian Garudas in Borneo, the Cambodian Eagles against the Jakarta Bintangs in Phnom Penh and two Philippine teams, the Nomads and the Dingoes, playing in Manila.

Special guests at other matches include former AFL stars Glenn Archer and Gary Buckenara and cricket greats Jeff Thomson and Geoff Marsh.

AFL Asia president Phil Johns said the purpose of the matches was to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice, to learn and try to make sense of the madness and to bring people together.

The West Australian

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