August 18 marks the 55th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. On this day in 1966, in a rubber plantation near the village of Long Tan, Australian soldiers fought one of their fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.
This battle saw D Company, 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, face an enemy force of over 2000. Heavily outnumbered, D Company held fast for 4 hours, supported by accurate artillery fire from Nui Dat, before reinforcements arrived. The battle saw 18 killed, and was the largest loss of life on a single day for the Australians.
In 1969, D Company returned to Long Tan to erect a memorial cross and commemorate the battle. Over time, this day became synonymous with all those who served and died in the Vietnam War. In 1987, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke made this official, announcing that Long Tan Day would now be known as Vietnam Veterans’ Day.
Every second year, my unit, 85 Transport Platoon, RAASC, (Vietnam) holds a reunion in conjunction with Vietnam Veterans Day somewhere in Australia. This year it was to be in Bendigo, Victoria. We would normally have about 150 members and partners attend but because of the Covid virus this year, we were forced to cancel it. Understandably, we just couldn’t get enough members to attend and make it worthwhile. We almost made it, but the closure of the Victorian / NSW border was the straw that broke the camel’s back; reducing those who could attend to such a low number that it was not worthwhile. Nevertheless, our organising committee’s good work will still be valuable when we meet again on our deferred date in 2022.
This is the second year in which local commemoration ceremonies have been cancelled due to Covid-19 – both in Melbourne and its suburbs. However, the nation continues to honour the service and sacrifice of all Vietnam veterans on this day. Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War. Of these 3,000 were wounded, and 521 were killed.
August 18 is a day to reconcile, to forgive, put aside the bad memories of the past and remember the solid mate-ship of those with whom we served.