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.

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