Category Archives: Vietnam

Badcoe’s VC for auction

This from today’s Australian. FOUR weeks ago, auction house chairman Tim Goodman received a call from a wealthy client in the US.

The businessman, a passionate military memorabilia collector, had learned that medals and frontline archival material belonging to Australian army Major Peter Badcoe, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967, would feature in Bonhams and Goodman’s May auction, to be held in Sydney on Tuesday.

The collector told Mr Goodman he intended to bid for the Badcoe collection, which includes the only Vietnam War VC medal still in private hands and awarded to Major Badcoe posthumously. The estimated price for the collection, which also features the US Silver Star with Oak Leaf and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Gold Star and Silver Star as well as 37 letters, photographs and audio recordings the major sent to his family, is about $400,000-$600,000.

I’ll watch this one with interest. Will the government help or will private enterprise act to keep the collection in Australia.

Kerry Stokes please note

My old mates positively identified

REMAINS found in Vietnam this month have been identified as two Australian soldiers declared missing in action in 1965.

Australian forensic scientists in Vietnam confirmed the remains belong to Lance Corporal Richard Parker and Private Peter Gillson.

The pair were killed during a Vietnam War battle in Dong Nai province, east of Saigon.

The forensic team reported that dental records, bones, teeth and artefacts found at the burial site, including military dog tags, led to the positive identifications.

If your a first time reader then previous articles covering the long fight to recover the bodies of ‘Tiny’ and Peter are Possible Closure on Hill 82 , More on Hill 82 and We’re taking you home, you’re OK now .

There is only one article left to write on the subject and that will be when I hopefully go to the service, presumably in Sydney, to lay them to rest.

We’re taking you home, you’re OK now’

Lance Corporal Richard Parker and Private Peter Gillson were killed in battle in the Vietnam War on November 8, 1965.

Their bodies were never recovered.

I’ve posted on this before and am now happy to pass on a progress report.

There is now hope that the families and army comrades of two Australian soldiers might finally have closure after remains and artifacts were found in a makeshift grave near Ho Chi Minh City.

A volunteer team of Vietnam veterans, who call themselves Operation Aussies Home, said they had found human remains and belongings, including a boot, buttons and a map, believed to be those of the missing soldiers.

They had handed the case over to Australian authorities for formal identification.

Last night from Vietnam, Operation Aussies Home leader Jim Bourke said the team had worked on and off for years to find the remains and had been excavating one particular battlefield for almost a month.

The discovery had been an emotional for his team, all of whom are Vietnam veterans, he said.

“We just want to send these blokes home after 42 years. It’s been really hard for their mates. Parker’s section commander, for instance, he can tell me the number of days since he left Parker on the hill.

“As the boys were digging deeper and deeper and finding more and more artifacts, they were talking to Parker and Gillson.

“They were saying, ‘We’re taking you home, you’re OK now’.”

Hopefully, some closure to a 42 year old tragedy

Howard visits Long Tan

The Prime Minister visited the battle scene at Long Tan yesterday and according to some veterans it wasn’t before time. I must admit I never felt anguished over the fact that a politician hadn’t visited the area but some obviously have and if that makes them happy then good. I note an old aquaintence gets a quote in the article;

For some veterans, such as Graeme “Breaker” Cusack, the first visit to the Long Tan site by an Australian prime minister was “great – but it’s 30 years too late”.

Breaker, a tattooed bikie and ex officer of 6RAR didn’t actually fight at the battle but was on duty at Nui Dat and now lives in Vung Tau as do quiet a few veterans. Married to locals they live the life of Riley with their military pensions putting them clearly in the millionaire status in the third world local economy.

I watched TV last night and wondered how professional journalists can make so many mistakes. Don’t they check anything? According to the journo D COy was ambushed (it was a encounter battle) by a battalion (it was a regiment plus) outside the Nui Dat Airbase (it was a military base).

The developing signifigence of the battle of Long Tan is discussed here by Peter Edwards an official historian of Australia’s involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts.

Vietnam Veteran’s Day washup

It’s now Sunday and I’ve recovered sufficiently to feel confident enough to write in complete sentences.

I spent the day with Percy Meredith, a digger in Recce Pl 7RAR with me in Vietnam. The previous evening I found a photo of Percy and printed it out for him. As he showed everyone he met I felt the need to apologise for having had a mere child in my platoon. Did I really tell this ‘child’ to do things of a dangerous nature? The short answer is yes and he certainly soldiered at a level well above his juvenile appearance. In fact he was as good as any and a very good forward scout.

We gathered, talked and marched through Brisbane. At the end of the march there was a comemmorative service at the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial in ANZAC Square with Adrian D’Hage, MC being given top billing. I have posted on D’Hage previously and wondered what the Vietnam Vets organization were thinking when they invited him to the event.

He didn’t disappoint delivering a peace message within the body of his speach. One would think that Adrian D’Hage of all people would realize the peace we enjoy is directly attributable to the fact that our young men and woman have gone to war when called.

Brigadier d’Hage said the lesson of Long Tan was to show the futility of war and the need for tolerance and acceptance of different cultures and faiths.

I beg to differ, old chap. The lesson of Long Tan was the courage of the participants with the ‘futility of war’ being a very moot point. If we accept futility as ‘uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result‘ I would suggest most wars do have a practical result with the demise of Hitler and Tojo being a good example.

Brigadier d’Hage said Long Tan was also a lesson for more recent conflicts.

“Young men and women are once again paying with their lives in Iraq, in Afghanistan and more recently in Lebanon.”

Negotiation should be the first resource, with war only as a last resort, Brigadier d’Hage said.

Brigadier Adrian D’Hage is himself a lesson in futility espousing words and ideals as the only ammunition against terroists prepared to blow up themsleves and their children in the pursuit of a new world order that doesn’t include infidels. There is no point negotaiting as a first resource with a group who detonate as a first resource.

Jesus Adrian, come back to the world.

There were mobs of KIWIs breasting the bar and as always they are treated as just another digger albeit with funny accents. Considering the NZ impact on the Battle of Long Tan one would imagine that the NZ press would be all over the celebrations of the 40th anniversary but when I linked to the NZ Herald the only mention I could find of Long Tan solicited a subscription to actually read the link.

Pass.

I later went to Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera to view the Drum Head parade [scroll down to para 5] and the concert. Organizers had found Adrain Cronauer, the original ‘Gooooooooooooood Mornnnnnnnnnnnnnnnning Vietnammmmmmmmmmmmmmm’ DJ and he didn’t disappoint. Neither did grey haired Col Joye and the Joy Boys nor Rhonda Burchmore who sang well albeit with her quality voice and interpretation overshadowed by her long legs appearing to represent a full two thirds of her body length. I stood along side Minister for Veterans Affairs Bruce Billson and his delightfull wife Kate, sharing the musical memories of the era with them and know that they both have a sympathetic approach to Vietnam Veterans.

We stayed late and reminisced until common sense bid me call my daughter Jennifer with a coded message along the lines of Dad…Enoggera…fetch!

It worked.

Vietnam, Long Tan and all that

LABOR backbencher Graham Edwards has stepped up calls for an inquiry into medals issued to veterans of the battle of Long Tan.

Mr Edwards, who lost his legs to a mine in Vietnam, maintains the men who did the real fighting on the day have not been properly recognised, and it was officers who were miles away from the fighting who unfairly won the top citations.

I know Graham well as we served in the same company in Vietnam and I know him to be committed to helping veterans when ever he can.

It may come as a surpise to the unitiated but under the old Imperial system bravery medals were rationed in war in the same way that food, water and beer were rationed. If you had the bad luck to be involved in a major battle towards the end of the ration period then, simply put, there were no bravery medals left in the Staff Officers drawer at AHQ, Canberra.

As well as soldiering under this anomoly regulations denied soldiers being awarded foreign decorations unless HM Queen Elizabeth herself gave approval as detailed by Bob Buick, Platoon Sergeant 11 Platoon, Delta Company 6RAR in his book “All Guts and no Glory”

On 2 September 1966 a parade was assembled near the Task Force headquarters[Nui Dat] because the Vietnamese Government intended to award honours and decorations for the battle at Long Tan. I think there was a total of 22 decorations – including a posthumous award to a member of the APC Troop who came to our rescue. The whole day turned into a fiasco and I’m ashamed to say AUstralians primarily caused it.

The Commander of the Vietnamese Armed Forces and Chief of State, General Nguyen Van Thieu, effectively the Vice President, was told by the Australian government late on the previous night that he could not award Vietnamese decorations to Australians.

This lead to the surreal circumstances where the General’s aids had to go to the local markets and buy gifts to replace the medals.

So, instead of military decorations and awards befitting warriors, the officers received laquered wooden cigar cases, sergeants were given similar cigarette cases and the corporals and privates received the dolls [Vietnamese dolls in national dress].

When I was posted out of SASR I was replaced by Bill ‘Yank’ Akell. Then a Captain, he had been a private signaller in 1966 and was with D Company Headquarters [CHQ] at the battle. Radio operators had difficulty being heard over the maelstrom and at one stage 10 Platoon lost their radio when Private Brian Hornung was shot through the chest [and presumably through the radio as well]

Although wounded he walked back to CHQ and Bill ‘Yank’ Akell raced to 10 platoon with a new radio. ‘Yank’ was the second company signaller in CHQ and as he dashed forward to 10 Platoon through a maelstrom of enemy bullets he killed a couple of Viet Cong with his 9 mm Owen machine carbine. He received the Mention in Dispatches [MID] award for his actions.

The MID was the lowest of all bravery awards and could also be awarded for just doing your job well. Clerks got MIDs for keeping their records straight so no way have I ever accepted that ‘Yank’s’ actions only warranted a MID.

From the Australian editorial on 5 Aug; [scroll down]

A combination of incompetence, jealousy and the Imperial medal system led to many Long Tan veterans having their medal-worthy performance downgraded to mere mentions in dispatches. Even the commander of Delta Company, Harry Smith, saw his recommendation for a Distinguished Service Order knocked down to a Military Cross. Adding insult to injury, soon after the fight Canberra blocked an attempt by the South Vietnam government to honour the Australian troops who fought in the battle with bravery citations.

My old mate Graham is right. A review is called for.

Some readers may opine that us Vietnam Veterans do go on but after other wars the militay held a end-of war medal review. 20 years after Vietnam the government were embarrassed into holding a similar review for Vietnam and then every success was a long and arduous fight. My father came home from his war a hero and welcomed by all of society. I came home and was asked by an attractive young woman how many babies had I killed. Graham tells how a woman, a member of the church his mother attended, told her she hoped he died of his wounds. A male phoned up parents of one of 7RAR’s dead within days of his demise and told them he deserved to die. This morning’s news relates that ten percent of Vietnam Veterans have committed suicide and we wonder why…..and people wonder why I hate the left wing. I went to the Welcome Home march in Sydney in 1987 to see my mates, not to be welcomed home.

Two years ago I wrote a tribute to a mate I lost in Vietnam headed A Letter to Ray. You might like to read it and feel the depth of our compassion. I have also written a piece headed ‘My first patrol’ No heroics, no medals, just a couple of days in the life of an infantryman.

I’m taking the day off. I’ll get dressed up and go find some Infantry mates. We’ll go ANZAC Square in Brisbane and remember our absent friends and then maybe go off to a pub somewhere. No, not maybe…I will go to a pub and toast our mates and spit on the communist sympathisers.

Stuff ‘em. I know I did the right thing.

Tragedy begets tragedy

History of my Battalion in Vietnam records a bad day.

Tragedy struck when [a Lance Corporal] was accidently shot and killed by a member of the platoon while he was checking the section’s claymores. The soldiers on gun picquet changed over while he was out and information was not correctly passed on. The corporal was coming back into the position crouched low in the grass and all the machine gunner could see was forehead and dark hair approaching

The machine gunner opened up and killed one of his own mates.

Back home in Australia the demons visited the machine gunner. He served on in the Army for nearly three decades “hoping to pay back for what he had done” He was actually blameless because he hadn’t been briefed correctly but that didn’t matter…he pulled the trigger…he knew.

He visited the local Veterans hospital looking for help. He was sent home with a flea in his ear. Stop making things up….this type of thing simply didn’t happen…go home and get over it

This morning he got over it.

A long time in the Army…disciplined…do it right…shower…suit…tie…clean shoes. Medals all polished and pinned on correctly. The Infantry Combat Badge, earned all those years ago, pinned on his suit, central and immediately above the medals.

Wife asleep…take a chair and some rope….go out into the backyard. Set it all up and take the healing step into oblivion.

All at peace now…no more demons.

How was your day?

Possible closure on Hill 82, Vietnam

In 1964 I joined 1 section, 1 Platoon, A Coy, 1RAR as a very raw recruit fresh out of Infantry Centre, Ingleburn. The Section 2ic was Lance Corporal ‘Tiny’ Parker and one of the other diggers in the platoon was Peter Gilson.

‘Tiny’ Parker brought me up to speed in Infantry Section work and was a patient and friendly proffessional soldier. We had many a friday happy hour over that year after a weeks hard training or after major exercises, and the team spirit that becomes apparent in infantry developed. Tiny was married then and at Platoon parties I met his wife and the girlfriends and parents of the others in the section and platoon.

In March 1965 I was posted to 5RAR as I was a month too young to deploy with 1RAR on their first tour of Vietnam so I left that small band, that team that took me from recruit to soldier and gave me many life-time friendships. We had worked hard and played hard and I was saddened to leave my new ‘family’.

Time marches on. I continue training with 5RAR while my old 1RAR platoon was in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. 1RAR was the first Australian infantry unit to serve in Vietnam and was one of the three battalions of the Brigade. On the 8th of November, forty years ago this month my old section and platoon came to grief.

Last night Lateline carried a story that may offer closure to all those who fought on that day, to the relatives who have suffered for all these forty years and to me who counted Tiny and Peter amongst my many army mates.

Get it right, Dennis!

The Courier Mail/Sunday Mail are running a Rock ‘N’ Roll magazine series (no link) celebrating Rock n Roll over the years 1955 -2005 and I was happily remembering the old tunes when I came across the section dealing with protest songs relating to the Vietnam War penned by Dennis Atkins.

Included was a picture of soldiers in Vietnam with the caption ‘US Troops in Vietnam’.

The picture, below, was the one photo selected to represent Australia’s involvement in the war and is, unsurprisingly, of Australian troops in Vietnam.

Original photo

Specifically, it is a photo of troops from Bravo Company, 7RAR, waiting for a chopper lift.

In 2002, at the 10th Anniversary of the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Canberra, the Battalion arranged for those pictured in 1967 still around, to group again with the photographer in front of the etched version of the original photo.

This article from the Canberra Times at the time records the event.

Reshooting 2002

ACTION: Michael Coleridge, right, who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War, recreates the image with six of the troops in the picture: Peter Capp, left, Bob Fennell, Bob D’Arcy, Neal Hasted, Ian Jury and Stan Whitford. The photograph is etched on the rear wall of the Vietnam Forces National Memorial. Photo: Richard Briggs.

A symbol for all by Megan Doherty

A PHOTOGRAPH of Australian soldiers in Vietnam waiting to be picked up by a United States Iroquois helicopter became an integral part of the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial.

The image was enlarged and etched on to the marble, becoming an icon of the war.

Yesterday, six of the seven soldiers in the photograph and the man who took it gathered together for the first time at the memorial.

The seventh soldier, Colin Barnett, died of cancer several years ago.

The surviving men, Stan Whitford, of Melbourne; Bob Fennell, of Leongatha; Peter Capp, of Gunnedah; Bob D’Arcy, of Brisbane; Neal Hasted, of Ipswich; and Ian Jury, of Australind, were humbled and a little embarrassed to be singled out for attention.

”It’s for the whole Vietnam movement and we’re just part of that photo,” Mr Fennell said.

Mr Capp said, ”I think it’s unnecessary to be highlighting the individuals.”

Mr Whitford said he was proud to have an association with the memorial and a bond with the other six men.

”There’s always a bond anyway but this has probably made it even closer,” he said.

”But it is a symbol for everyone.”

The men were members of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, when they were photographed by Michael Coleridge, just north of the village of Phuoc Hai in 1967. The men do not even remember Mr Coleridge taking the photograph.

”We were just waiting for the chopper to come down to get in and get out,” Mr Fennell said.

Mr Coleridge, who now lives in Braidwood, had been asked by the 7th Battalion to get a ”proper action shot on the general theme of Vietnam”.

”So I was hunting for that shot and we were just going home and all very tired and I took three shots,” he said.

Mr Coleridge said he was happy for the photograph to be used for the memorial but his ”kids were happier than I am”, proud of his achievement.

A small point to some, but after the flogging us Vietnam Vets got from the press during and after the war we need to hang on to every courtesy we have been afforded.

After all, 7RAR Veterans are proud that this photo was selected as representative of the war, and we sure as hell don’t want it identified as US Troops.

Get it right, Dennis!

Saigon and the Rex Hotel

After my lucky escape in Vung Tau we rode the hydrofoil to Saigon and booked at the Oscar Hotel for the night before going on to Nha Trang the next day.

That night I figured we should go and have a beer at the Rex Hotel. Famous during the war as a residence for Generals and journalists, it is a part of the folk-law of the Vietnam war.

Being Infantry I never got there but had heard how the assembled multitude would admire the infantry’s ongoing pyrotechnic side show as we swapped red for green tracer and added in the odd napalm ‘appocalypse’ mixed with the Puff the Magic Dragon ‘spiralling red light show’ as millions of rounds sought out enemy troops.

Ah. The vision splendid of pyrotechnics in war

I hope the bastards appreciated all the effort we went to to liven up their Happy Hours after a hard week in their airconditioned offices.

Suzan Weber in Demillle’s Up Country talks on some of the history of the hotel.

She smiled then said, “About the hotel – it was once owned by a wealthy Vietnamese couple who bought it from a French company. During the American involvement here, it housed mostly American military”

“So I’ve heard”

“Yes. Then when the Communists came to power in 1975, it was taken over by the government. It remained a hotel, but it mostly housed North Vietnamese party officials, Russian, and Communists from other countries”

“Nothing but the best for the winners”

“Well, I understand it became a pigsty. But sometime in the mid-1980s the government sold an interest in it to an international company, who managed to get rid of the communist guests. It was completely renovated and became an international hotel”

From Up Country by Nelson Demille pp98-99

rex1.jpg

A couple of Tiger beers followed by a couple of Black Label scotches soothed the soul as Stu and I sat and talked about things in general. The Rex was as far removed from my war as Brisbane is and thus didn’t conjure up many recollections, but alcohol loosens the mind and some surprising events resurfaced from repressed memories.

Over by the crown and elephants a Philipino Quartet played and I was reminded of a time when I was last in Vietnam and suffering from malaria and a kind nurse offered to push me down in my wheelchair to a visiting Philipino show near the hospital at Vung Tau.

There were lightly clad, pretty Philipino girls doing a song and dance routine that quickly degenerated into a ‘simulated sex with the microphone stand’ routine and then went straight on to a ‘real and naked sex with passing soldiers’ routine. Military Policemen found God and converted from being athiest bastards to followers of religion of the type quoted by Protestants and Methodists and stopped the show, while my chaperone giggled, squealed and quickly wheeled me out of the theatre.

“Your’e not well enough for anything like that yet Kevin, your’e not even strong enough to walk”

All my protestations about it being a horizontal sport made no impact on the determination of the Lieutenant to deliver me safe and sound back to my hospital bed.

I lived to fight another day but I always felt the last chapter of that story never got written.