Fifty years after heroic battle, Long Tan veterans to finally receive gallantry awards

Some soldiers get recognition as soon as they come home, while some wait for half a decade just to be
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Some soldiers get recognition as soon as they come home, while some wait for half a decade just to be thanked for their heroic services to the country. One of them is the Australian veterans from the Battle of Long Tan which will receive official recognition for their gallantry, almost 50 years to the day after their heroic efforts in the Vietnam War.

On 18 August, 1966, members of D Company who were outnumbered 20 to 1, fought against enormous odds to defeat the Viet Cong in one of the most well-known Australian engagements of the war, reports ABC News.

For half a century, many of the men have received no official recognition of their courage, despite sustained campaigning from D Company commander, retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith.

Phuoc Tuy, Vietnam. 1967-01. Major Harry Smith of St. John's Wood, Brisbane, Qld, receiving the ribbon to the Military Cross for gallantry from Brigadier O. D. Jackson.
Phuoc Tuy, Vietnam. 1967-01. Major Harry Smith of St. John’s Wood, Brisbane, Qld, receiving the ribbon to the Military Cross for gallantry from Brigadier O. D. Jackson.

In April last year, former army chief David Morrison refused to recommend a range of gallantry awards for 13 Australian Army members who had fought at Long Tan, prompting Lieutenant Colonel Smith to approach the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal.

Last month the retired Lt Col told the ABC’s 7.30 program this latest effort would probably be his final attempt to gain recognition for his company.

“I owe it to my soldiers to follow through on what I recommended in 1966,” Mr Smith said.

“Probably if we don’t win with the current review, at age 83, I’ll probably decide to get on with my sailing and maybe let it go.”

Enoggera, Queensland 1966 Members of 8 platoon, C Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in the battalion lines at Enoggera, Queensland, prior to deployment to Vietnam in May 1966. From left: 2781803 Private Rodney Cox of Ganmain, NSW; 2781794 Private Gordon Stafford of Gunnedah, NSW; 2781823 Private Neil (Pop) Baker of Newcastle, NSW; 2781790 Private Mark (Scrub) Minell of Moree, NSW; 2781809 Private Graham Irvine of Coolamon, NSW. All five men were called up in the first intake of national service in July 1965. Note the protective steel helmets with camouflage netting, usually worn by Australian infantry on operations in areas known to have been mined by the enemy.
Enoggera, Queensland 1966 Members of 8 platoon, C Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in the battalion lines at Enoggera, Queensland, prior to deployment to Vietnam in May 1966. From left: 2781803 Private Rodney Cox of Ganmain, NSW; 2781794 Private Gordon Stafford of Gunnedah, NSW; 2781823 Private Neil (Pop) Baker of Newcastle, NSW; 2781790 Private Mark (Scrub) Minell of Moree, NSW; 2781809 Private Graham Irvine of Coolamon, NSW. All five men were called up in the first intake of national service in July 1965. Note the protective steel helmets with camouflage netting, usually worn by Australian infantry on operations in areas known to have been mined by the enemy.

With the 50th anniversary of the battle approaching, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal has now finished reviewing an application to officially recognise 13 men who fought in the battle.

The ABC has confirmed on August 10 the Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan will announce new bravery awards alongside Lt Col Smith and Mark Sullivan, the chair of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal.

Details of precisely which medals will be presented and how many former soldiers will be recognised for their efforts in the Battle of Long Tan so far remain confidential.

Surviving Long Tan veterans will head to Vietnam later this month to attend a 50th anniversary commemorative service.

Do you think this was long overdue?

  1. Peter Monahan  

    About time, if they had been American they would be making movies about them! This is about recognition of their courage, the sacrifices they made and the horrendous impact on their families and their lives.

  2. Peter Maslen  

    They should have been recognised 50 years ago. The way these vets were treated was despicable. I was fortunate to be in teh Sydney CB the Saturday that the first Vietnam vets march was held, an emotional day.

  3. Murray  

    Well overdue. The treatment of the Vietnam Troops is a blight on our history. Sure the war was at a stalemate and it needed to be brought to an end but the treatment they received was a disgrace. I have a mate who is still furious at his treatment and he recalls being spat on by protesters when he arrived home. They all deserve medals.

    • Althea Waller  

      I agree with all the above comments. Well past the due date for recognition of these men and in fact all Vets

  4. lurch  

    As usual our troops did their job only to be pissed on when they came home by the public and our government. My brother died over there, recognition for his service and life ZIP other than a little plaque on the pole with a flag. Seems all ex service personnel got one

    • PHIL Martin  

      Lurch,

      My family got a doll to remember my brother’s sacrifice at Long Tan! How’s that for recognition.

  5. Eileen  

    The treatment our Vietnamese war heroes’ had to put up with upon their return here was nothing short of disgusting! This was by the Government of the day, & the general public.

    No wonder there were many suicides’, & the now-recognised PTSD.sufferers’.
    The Unit established at Gallipoli Barracks, helping those coming home from Afghani, & Iraqi battles is a step in the right direction.

    If you’ve the chance to watch ’80’s tv mini-series’, ‘Sword of Honour’, it shows very well the
    anguish of these vets.

    Returning soldiers’ have always had problems’. It was called ‘shell shock’, after WWI & II. But its’ devastating effects on our men, & women never decreases.

    My cousin, a WO1,, who was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’, thrice, from Vietnam, died at 42, from cancer, caused by the effects of ‘Agent Orange’. There were hundreds’ of thers’ the same.

    Lest We Forget!

  6. Cerajane  

    They certainly do deserve those medals and should have had them much, much sooner.
    Better still they should never have been sent there in the first place.
    I was a protester at the time. But my argument wasn’t pointed at those who fought, but at those who stayed at home and sent them. My boyfriend at that time, was called up, but fortunately was in an apprenticeship and didn’t have to go.
    But don’t ever forget, it was all for nothing. We didn’t win. Those poor, poor men were damaged for the sake of obliging the US government.

  7. Steve  

    Messing with a medal system 50 years after the fact is a travesty.

    Smith would have known full well that not every recommendation would end with an award, that is just the way it was and still is.

    Smith and his medal team have managed to get D Coy 6 RAR two citations that are dubious awards. One, the South Vietnamese Gallantry Citation was campaigned on hearsay only and awarded by the Australian Government who had no authority to do so. In fact the reviewing tribunal decided that the award cannot be awarded, they were over ridden by the PM at the time……. I just wonder if that was to appease the Viet Veterans in an attempt to gain a few votes?

    The second citation is the new’ish Australian Unit Gallantry Citation which was not in existence during the Vietnam War, shall we review the gallant battalions that fought at Lone Pine and award each of those one too!

    An earlier review saw members of D Coy 6 RAR receive either upgrades or initial awards, now we are going down this path again!

    All this proves is that if you whine and cry long enough you can get your own way, whether that is the petulant child that wants a lolly or a Bn OC keeping on the case and four reviews until he gets his own way.

  8. Yes, long overdue and the 18 who died for our country need to be honoured too.

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