Obscure Box

Thoughts from inside the obscure box

April 30, 2008

An end in sight to Australia's longest battle in Vietnam

Posted by : Michael Lund
Filed under : Media, Online, Print

Reports today that the man who led the Australian troops in the Battle of Long Tan - Australia's bloodiest conflict in Vietnam - is to get the medal recognition he deserves.

According to "Medals recommended for Long Tan heroes", Harry Smith is recommended for the Star of Gallantry, Australia's second highest military honour, according to a review revealed today.

Smith had been awarded the Military Cross for his role in the 1966 battle which many felt was not enough. Others who were recommended for military honours at the time were also not given what it was felt they deserved.

I've had the privilege of meeting Smith when he lived on the Sunshine Coast. He's a quiet man who prefers to talk about sailing and other interests than be taken back to the battle field.

Yet those who fought under Smith credit him for their training and his command of D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, that helped them when they faced a Viet Cong force 10 times their strength in a rubber plantation in the Phuoc Tuy province.

After the battle 18 Australians died compared to 245 Viet Cong.

You can read Smith's own account of the battle in his article "No time for fear" at the Australian War Memorial.

"Everyone did what they were trained for – and did it so well we were able to repel and survive the enemy onslaughts. The dedication of my men to helping and giving covering fire to their mates and assisting the wounded was outstanding. Outnumbered, we just got on with what we had trained for – killing the enemy – to survive."

It's an incredible story of survival against the odds. Why this story hasn't been made in to a major movie, I don't know.

For Smith the battle continued after Long Tan because it he who accessed the military paperwork in 1996 - released under the 30 year rule - to find out what happened to the original award proposals.

The "Review of Recognition for the Battle of Long Tan", made public today, tells what he discovered.

"He discovered there was no paperwork for some, and paperwork for others showed the proposed awards had been downgraded – including an initial recommendation for him to be awarded a DSO, which had been downgraded to a Military Cross (MC)."

I wrote my first story on the campaign for proper medal recognition for The Sunday Mail back in July 1999, not long after moving to Australia.. A month later I interviewed Smith for a longer feature for the newspaper.

"It's a sort of chip I have carried on my shoulder," he said.

"The system didn't recognise Long Tan which has now become an icon for Vietnam battles."

By that he was referring to the fact the Vietnam Veterans' Day is marked on August 18 each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.

I hope the review is accepted by the Rudd Government and Smith is awarded the medal he deserves.

The review is also recommending Second Lieutenant David Sabben and Second Lieutenant Geoff Kendall both be offered the Medal for Gallantry, equivalent of the old Military Cross.

Both were originally recommended for the MC but were down-graded to a Mention in Dispatches.

Hopefully Smith can then continue his retirement with the knowledge that the battle is finally over - 42 years after it began.

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All thoughts and comments here are the honestly held personal opinion of Michael Lund and are based on the information available at the time of publication.