Veterans bravery honoured, finally
ON Monday, 42 years after the battle of Long Tan, Vietnam war survivor Major Graham Davis will at last receive a medal for his bravery.
Because of an outdated Imperial system that denied soldiers this recognition, confusion surrounding facts of the battle afterwards, and a government gun-shy of public opinion on the war, the young men of D Company were ignored.
“It took 42 years to acknowledge what we believe was a major anomaly on the part of the Australian Government,” said Major Davis, now an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church.
“Had we not engaged the Vietcong and broke up their assault there would have been devastation for our task force and embarrassment for the government of the day.
“Perhaps now some of us can move on. Perhaps this medal will bring some closure.”
Ironically, the 100 hard-bitten soldiers of D Company, 21 of whom were killed in the fierce fire-fight, were honoured by the South Vietnamese Government immediately after the battle.
The tough soldiers were presented with a Vietnamese doll.
“The boys thought it was a party joke,” reflected Major Davis, who at the time was in a Saigon hospital with a bullet wound to his shoulder.
Even the Americans shook their hands, presenting the men with a Presidential Unit Citation two years later.
Considering the intensity of the battle, in which the 100 soldiers of D Company found themselves surrounded by 1500 Vietcong, it has long been a mystery why the Australian Government failed to properly acknowledge the survivors.
Combat was so close between the two warring parties that to pull through the Australians ordered shelling from Royal New Zealand artillery to be dropped closer to their own troops.
In the end an attack by armoured personnel carriers broke up the Vietcong's final assault.
“Otherwise,” says Major Davis, “None of us would be here today.”
Vietnam Veterans Day is held today. But just as Anzac Day commemorates the landing at Gallipoli, the Battle of Long Tan will always remain its inspiration.