Vietnam Veterans Day

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

Vietnam Veterans Day

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Defence Materiel) (16:26): Last Thursday, 18 August, was Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day; 18 August is also the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. In that battle, members of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment engaged a much larger Vietcong force. One hundred and eight soldiers from Delta Company fought a Vietcong force of more than 2,000 in driving rain near the village of Long Tan in South Vietnam. Supported by Australian, New Zealand and American artillery, as well as Royal Australian Air Force Iroquois helicopters, they withstood the Vietcong attack and through their actions established Australian dominance in the area, which was never again seriously challenged. In the battle 18 Australian soldiers lost their lives and 24 were wounded. As other members have noted here, Long Tan has long held a special place in Australia’s military history. The memorial cross at Long Tan hidden amongst the rubber trees where the battle was fought is visited by many Australians each year. Last week Delta Company 6RAR was awarded a Unit Citation For Gallantry for their actions at Long Tan—something long overdue. A Unit Citation For Gallantry recognises the collective extraordinary gallantry in military operations—gallantry that was recognised by our ally the United States in 1968 when the unit received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism from President Lyndon Johnson. The text of that citation reads, inter alia:

While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attacked on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well armed and determined foe, the men on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Cong.

The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle. After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence positions of D Company.

The conspicuous courage, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were to the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army.

That is part of the citation from President Johnson dated 28 May 1968.

The anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan has also become the day on which we remember all Australians who served in Vietnam. We remember the nine infantry battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment who saw service in Vietnam and the seven who carried out two operational tours. One of those men was my grandfather Jack Clare, who fought in the Second World War and did two tours of duty in Vietnam.

At times like this it is also important to remember the role played by the RAAF, which provided a squadron of Iroquois helicopters, a squadron of Canberra bombers and a squadron of Caribou transport aircraft. It is also important to remember the role played by the Royal Australian Navy, which provided gunfire support to American forces and a clearance diving team for port security and mine clearance, as well as transporting our troops to and from Vietnam. We also remember the Australian military nurses who served in operating theatres and hospitals across Vietnam. We remember the sacrifice of the 521 Australians who lost their lives in Vietnam and the more than 3,000 who were injured in service to our nation.

More than 17,000 national serviceman served in Vietnam, and 212 of those lost their lives there. Of the 60,000 Australians who served in Vietnam, approximately 47,000 are still alive today. It is our Vietnam veterans who run many of our ex-service organisations and play a very important role in kindling the Anzac spirit.

It is also important in motions like this that we remember the bravery of those whom we fought alongside, the soldiers of the South Vietnamese Army, many of whom had to flee their own country when Saigon fell and many of whom live in my electorate today.

We are all indebted to those who serve our country and it is appropriate that this House pause to recognise and remember the sacrifices of those who served so bravely in Vietnam and ensure that the courage they displayed and the sacrifices they made, like all who have fought in our name, are never forgotten