A MEMORIAL service was held on Wednesday, August 10 at the Wonthaggi Cenotaph in commemoration of the 50 year anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan.
The battle, which changed the nature of fighting and combat during the Vietnam War, took place on August 18, 1966, with this date now accepted as Vietnam Veterans Day.
Wonthaggi RSL Sub Branch Secretary Rod Gallagher spoke at the memorial service, asking the crowd to remember the valiant efforts of the Australian battalions.
“We gather here together to remember our comrades and friends who gave their lives in battle in Vietnam,” Mr Gallagher said.
“We remember those who returned home to their loved ones to carry on with life as possible as for them. Many who returned were traumatised, both physically and mentally, with some dying later of illness as a result of their service.
“We remember the 108 men of D Company, the 6 RAR who faced off against a regimental sized NVA/VC force, leaving 18 dead on the battlefield, at the cost of more than 245 of the enemy.
“Let us recall that more than 60,000 of us served in Vietnam. That 521 were killed and over 3000 wounded.
“Remember that at the end we came home unwanted, vilified by many Australians, disrespected by some in the RSL and an embarrassment to our government. At least our enemies gave us respect and today are comrades of a shared experience.
“We served Australia with honour, and did our duty at a time when others would not. Well done those men.”
Wreaths were laid at the Wonthaggi cenotaph on the behalf of the Australian Army, Navy, and RAF.
A memorial luncheon was then held at the Wonthaggi RSL, in honour of both the 50 year anniversary and the annual celebration of Vietnam Veterans Day.
Fifty years since Australia’s greatest win
AUGUST 18, 2016, marks the 50th year anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan.
The date of this conflict is now established as Vietnam Veterans Day, a day when Vietnam Veterans commemorate a victory against the odds, remember their honourable service, and most importantly to remember those who died both in conflict many years ago, and of subsequent disabilities resulting from their service.
This battle was fought in the rubber plantation of Long Tan where 108 soldiers of D company 6 RAR (Royal Australian Regiment) defeated a force of 1500 to 2500 from the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.
In May 1966 the first soldiers of the sixth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment arrived in South Vietnam, with the rest following in June.
Within two months, elements of the battalion found themselves engaged in one of the largest battles fought by Australians in the Vietnam War.
Concerned at the establishment of such a strong presence in their midst, the Viet Cong determined to inflict an early defeat on the Australians.
The battle was one of the most significant conflicts of the Vietnam War as well as one the few battles in the recorded history of the world to be won against such odds.
Rod Gallagher, secretary of the Wonthaggi RSL Sub Branch, said that the anniversary was an important and appropriate time to review the policy of selective conscription that was adopted by the government at the time.
“Conscription provided the manpower for the Vietnam War,” Mr Gallagher said.
“Vietnam conscript casualties were 1279 wounded and 202 men killed, representing approximately 38 per cent of all causalities suffered by the Australian Army in that conflict.
“Selective conscription was introduced by the Menzies Government on November 10, 1964 and was terminated by the Whitlam Government in 1972.
“It was called selective because the government estimated that it needed 8400 men per year on average to meet the commitment to support the USA in Vietnam but the number of eligible 20 year males far exceeded that number, also the size of the Regular Army of the day was too small to train for any greater commitment in Vietnam.”
Conscription and Australia’s involvement in the war proved controversial at the time.
“Early in the period considerable support was shown for the soldiers returning from Vietnam,” Mr Gallagher said.
“But by 1968 considerable sections of the Australian community were openly hostile to returning troops as opposition increased to the Vietnam War.
“They were vilified in some sections of the community, excluded from joining some RSL sub-branches. They even had to organise their own welcome home parade, and fight for a Memorial in Canberra.
“Today, there is still no formal parliamentary recognition of their honourable service and duty done under duress.
“The Battle of Long Tan changed the nature of fighting in the Vietnam War,” Mr Gallagher said.
“It’s important that we commemorate it, and also to be inclusive of our younger veterans who are returning from modern conflicts. We don’t want them to feel excluded in the same way we did returning from Vietnam.”