In Australia, August 18 is the anniversary of the battle of Long Tan. It is also known as Vietnam Veterans’ Day.
It’s late afternoon August 18, 1966 South Vietnam
For three and a half hours, in the pouring rain, amid the mud and shattered trees of a rubber plantation called Long Tan, Major Harry Smith and his dispersed D Company 6RAR consisting of 108 young and mostly inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers are fighting for their lives, holding off an overwhelming enemy force of 2,500 battle hardened Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
At the cessation of the battle, 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 6RAR.
In 1962, Australia became involved in what we know as the Vietnam War. In Vietnam today, this war is known as the ‘American War’, to distinguish it from all the other armed conflicts involving Vietnam.
At first, Australian advisers were sent to South Vietnam to help train the South Vietnamese army in their fight against the communist north. In 1966 an Australian Task Force was committed to aid the South Vietnamese and American forces in their fight against the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong in the south.
From 1966 until 1973, units from Australia’s armed services were sent by plane or ship to South Vietnam. Most individuals served there for about 12 months, although some re-signed for longer periods.
Combat operations ceased in 1972. The communist forces defeated the South Vietnamese forces in 1975 and unified the country. Australia’s commitment included the Australian Army, the RAN, and the RAAF, as well as Service Nurses.
The Vietnam War was a different type of war. For the first time, Australians endured not only the dangers of the jungle but also the difficulties of counter-insurgency warfare.
In the mid 60’s, to help meet the commitment to aid the South Vietnamese, the Australian Government of the day determined that it was necessary to introduce a form of conscription – a process whereby men aged 20 were selected by a birthday ballot to join the Australian Army for a period of 2 years. My birth date was selected and in 1967 I was conscripted into the Australian Army which included 12 months posting to Vietnam.
On August 18 each year, I remember all those who served in Vietnam. Most were based at Nui Dat with the Australian Task Force or at Vung Tau with the Logistic Force. Australians also operated around Bien Hoa, in and around Saigon, at Long Binh and in various other locations, including Fire Support Bases, both inside and outside Phuoc Tuy province.
Much has been written and discussed about the justification, or lack of it, for Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I do not wish to make any judgements today about this aspect of the war. I simply want to acknowledge and remember those who served their country at that time; those who returned and those who did not.
Ray Heathcote 2021