Earlier in the year I announced that it was my intention to make the month of August a tribute to our Vietnam Veterans. I called for stories and information to share, and whilst a couple of people responded, it proved to be predictably difficult to find people who were willing to tell their story, or to write any articles for me. Unfortunately, then I lost my laptop in the fire that destroyed my home. Whatever information and stories I had been able to collect were destroyed on that laptop.
As you know, I am still working to bring Aussie Heroes back up to speed, and although it is functioning almost as before, we are not quite there yet and won’t be for a little while yet I believe. The demands the reconstruction has placed on me have meant there has been no extra time to do more research or gather more stories and info.
I am afraid that tonight’s post will have to suffice. The memory of the way our Vietnam Veterans were treated when they came home from war is one of the reasons I started Aussie Heroes. All our troops need to know that we support them regardless of how we may feel about the politics of the specific conflict they are involved in.
Hence our motto…
We care about the people, not the politics or the mission.
The Vietnam Veterans I have met immediately understand the value of what we do as they know, perhaps better than most, the importance of support back home.
Today is Vietnam Veteran’s Day and also the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
The Battle of Long Tan was the most costly day of the Vietnam War for Australia with loss of 18 diggers that day.
On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR. Veterans from the battle gathered at the cross to commemorate the fallen, and the day was commemorated by them as Long Tan Day from then on. Over time, all Vietnam veterans adopted the day as one to commemorate those who served and died in Vietnam.
On 18 August 1987, following the very successful Welcome Home parade for Vietnam veterans in Sydney, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that Long Tan Day would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Since then, it has been commemorated every year as the day on which the service of all those men and women who served in Vietnam is remembered.
The Battle of Long Tan
In May 1966 the first soldiers of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) arrived in South Vietnam; the rest followed in June. Within two months elements of the battalion found themselves engaged in one of the largest battles fought by Australians in the Vietnam War.
By August 1966 the Australian task force base at Nui Dat was only three months old. Concerned at the establishment of such a strong presence in their midst, the Viet Cong determined to inflict an early defeat on the Australians. In the days before the battle, radio signals indicated the presence of strong Viet Cong forces within 5 kilometres of the base but patrols found nothing. On the night of 16–17 August Nui Dat came under fire from mortars and recoilless rifles. The defenders stood to, expecting the barrage to be followed by an assault. None came. Searches of the area the next day located some of the sites from which mortars had been fired, but nothing else.
Patrols continued the following day, 18 August. D Company left the base at 11.15 that morning bound for the Long Tan rubber plantation. As they departed Nui Dat the sounds of a concert by Little Pattie, the Australian entertainer, reached their ears. They entered the Long Tan plantation at 3.15 that afternoon. Less than an hour later the Viet Cong attacked in force, putting the Australians under mortar, machine gun and small arms fire. Only the quick response of a New Zealand artillery battery to desperate calls for support saved D Company from annihilation.
Almost as soon as the battle began a torrential downpour added to the gloom in the rubber plantation. The Australians, surrounded, short of ammunition and fighting an enemy whose strength they could only guess at, called for helicopters to drop ammunition to them. Flying at tree-top height, braving the terrible weather and heavy Viet Cong fire, two RAAF helicopters located the beleaguered Australians and dropped boxes of ammunition and blankets for the wounded.
The survivors of D Company along with accurate artillery fire from New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery as well as the Australian 103 and 105 Field batteries and a United States battery inflicted heavy losses on the Viet Cong. As the fighting continued Australian reinforcements were committed to the battle. B Company was on the way and A Company, loaded into Armoured Personnel Carriers of 3 Troop, 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron, which fought its way into D Company just before 7 pm as daylight was fading. The Viet Cong had been massing for another assault but were forced to retreat into the plantation. They had suffered terrible casualties, but only when the Australians returned to the scene of battle the following morning did they realise the extent of the defeat that they had inflicted on the enemy. The Australians counted 245 enemy dead still in the plantation and surrounding jungle with evidence that others had already been removed from the battlefield. Captured documents and information from prisoners suggested that D Company had faced some 2,500 Viet Cong. Eighteen Australians were killed in the Battle of Long Tan and 24 wounded, all but one of the dead were from D Company.
It was a magnificent victory against the odds, one of the finest defensive battles in Australia’s military history.
As a result of their defeat at Long Tan, enemy forces in Phuoc Tuy province showed a reluctance to ever again engage Australians in large set-piece battles.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, 83, has campaigned for decades to rectify deficiencies in what he believed was a shambolic system for military awards.
He was commander of Delta company during the Battle of Long Tan and was not satisfied with the level of recognition awarded to soldiers at the time.
The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal was tasked with considering the cases of 13 of his soldiers.
Mr Smith said he had done his best to put a strong case to the tribunal.
“Justice has been done,” he told reporters in Canberra. “I believe that the outcome has been excellent, compared with what has been done before.”
If you should have the privilege of meeting a Vietnam Veteran at any time, do take a moment and quietly thank them for their service. It is never too late.
Till next time…………….keep spreading the word and happy stitching!