Soldiers' 43-year wait for long tan honours

THE logic - or illogic - of successive Australian Governments' failure to fully recognise the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam is baffling.

The battle, on August 18, 1966, cost the lives of 18 Australian soldiers and wounded 24 of them. For that reason alone, Long Tan was significant. But the efforts of the Australians in Delta Company, who walked into a carefully laid trap by Viet Cong forces and then fought their way out, were remarkable. Estimates of the number of enemy faced by the Australians vary, but there is no doubt that the 108 diggers in D Company were significantly out-numbered.

However, despite their lack of numbers and the fact they faced established machine gun positions, the diggers fought off the Viet Cong so decisively the enemy never returned in numbers to bother the Australians based at Nui Dat.

The Americans were so impressed with the Australians they awarded them with a Presidential Unit Citation in 1968 - an honour not handed out lightly. However, the diggers' own government rejected or downgraded many of the awards they were recommended for. Perhaps that was a political decision, taken in light of the unpopularity of the war.

However, Australia has had 10 prime ministers since Long Tan and it wasn't until 2006 that one of them - John Howard - even bothered to visit the site of the battle.

Yesterday's announcement that the members of Delta Company would be awarded a citation for gallantry is a significant step forward but, as Graeme Davis points out, the business of properly recognising Australia's heroes of Long Tan is not done yet.



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