Long Tan veterans win new battle
FORTY-THREE years after a bullet from a Viet Cong sniper tore through then-Private Graeme Davis' shoulder, missing his heart by less than a centimetre, he and his Delta Company comrades will finally be acknowledged by the Federal Government.
The Battle of Long Tan, as it became known, was the first major confrontation by Australian forces in Vietnam, when the 108-strong infantry of the 6th Battalion RAR saw off a surprise attack by an overwhelming number of Viet Cong, saving the lives of hundreds at the Australian base at Nui Dat.
Announcing the unit's citation for gallantry yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support Mike Kelly said: “It has only been in recent years we have come to appreciate the full significance of the battle.
“The result ... was not only that the enemy was prevented from achieving its objective, but was never able to mount such an effort again in Phuoc Tuy Province for the remainder of the Australian presence.”
Eighteen Australian lives were lost in the battle and another 24 diggers were wounded.
Yesterday, Mr Davis, a retired army major of Goonellabah, welcomed the belated recognition of his unit's sacrifice.
“It's part of the healing process,” he said. “In the military we acknowledge our heroes and acknowledge the bravery and sacrifice our soldiers give.”
Mr Davis, a medic at the time and now a Catholic Deacon, said the battle began at 1.45am, August 17, 1966.
“Tents had just arrived when suddenly the night exploded into light and noise as a bombardment of mortar fire landed just 50 metres in front of me,” he said. The next day, soldiers from his D Company unit stumbled across a hidden encampment of 2500 enemy troops.
As the Viet Cong launched a new attack wave, Pte Davis was shot while tending the wounded.
A US Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to D Company by President Lyndon Johnson on May 28, 1968, for the unit's heroic actions at Long Tan.
The awarding of the Australian citation for gallantry was a recommendation of the independent Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal Inquiry into Unresolved Recognition Issues for the Battle of Long Tan.
However, Mr Davis said there was 'still unfinished business' after the inquiry rejected 12 recommendations for awards. “I am grateful to the nation and that the Prime Minister has delivered, but we feel it would have been easier to deal with it once and for all,” he said.
A Distinguished Service Medal will be also awarded posthumously to Flight Lieutenant Cliff Dohle for dropping vital ammunition to soldiers on the ground.
Richard Brown, of Ballina, who also fought in Long Tan, will also receive a citation.