|Long Tan veterans win medal battleFont Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Mark Dodd and Patrick Walters | August 14, 2008
From "The Australian
FORTY-TWO years after the Battle of Long Tan, Harry Smith's long campaign for due recognition for his men is over.
Mr Smith and two fellow officers will get top gallantry awards for the 100-odd men of D Company 6 RAR who on August 18, 1966, fought against 1500 North Vietnamese regular troops and Viet Cong guerillas.
This follows approval by the Rudd Government of the main recommendations of an independent review, by a panel of retired senior army officers, of the battle regarded as a classic study in the use of combined arms to defeat a superior enemy.
It restores the awards recommendations proposed shortly after the battle for the then major Smith and second lieutenants Dave Sabben and Geoff Kendall.
Eighteen Australians died and 21 were wounded in the battle, fought in monsoonal rain on a rubber plantation on the outskirts of the Australian base at Phuoc Tuy province.
Today's announcement is certain to reignite the controversy over conferring retrospective gallantry awards, despite the objections of veterans that they were denied appropriate recognition.
"It will be a bunfight, and cause a huge amount of stress among some families," a leading military historian predicted last night.
The key decisions approved by Governor-General Michael Jeffery, a former commander of the Special Air Service Regiment and holder of the Military Cross for action in Vietnam, means Mr Smith will be offered the Star of Gallantry - which is the equivalent of the Imperial Distinguished Service Order, second only to the Victoria Cross.
"The fat lady has finally sung," a delighted Mr Smith told The Australian last night.
"I am extremely pleased justice has finally been done - it's been a long battle."
It is understood that as a result of the new awards, the former company commander will no longer be able to wear the MC, the downgraded award given in place of the original recommendation he receive the DSO.
Former platoon commanders Sabben and Kendall will now be offered the Medal for Gallantry - equivalent to the MC, the third highest award for valour that was originally recommended. Their original recommendations were downgraded to mentions in despatches.
The Government also overruled a panel recommendation barring former D Company veterans from wearing a unit citation and gallantry medal conferred by the former Republic of Vietnam.
Speaking from his Hervey Bay home in Queensland, 74-year-old Mr Smith said that while he was happy with the outcome of the independent review panel, 42 years on it was all a bit of an anti-climax.
"But I am about to demolish one or two bottles of red tonight because it has taken such a long time," he said. "I can tell you, I and my colleagues have been very frustrated by bureaucrats in Canberra who would not believe the words of the people who fought in the battle."
Mr Smith said he owed a great debt of thanks to Vietnam veteran and former federal Labor MP Graham Edwards and Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin.
"There was enough evidence gathered at Long Tan to raise serious issues as to whether injustices had been done in the awarding of gallantry medals," Mr Griffin told The Australian last night.
Unresolved concerns regarding individual South Vietnamese awards for Long Tan would be referred to the Independent Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal.
Implementation of the recommendations properly recognised the individual and collective gallantry of the diggers during the battle, a government statement said.
The Government accepted the panel's findings that documentary evidence supported claims that gallantry awards originally recommended for the three officers had been downgraded.
Panel member Major General Peter Abigail said he and his colleagues were "all very comfortable" with the decisions, and he defended the panel's decision not to recommend approval on the old Republic of Vietnam awards.
"We didn't feel free in our terms of reference to recommend the setting aside of foreign awards guidelines," General Abigail said.
The Government accepted the panel's recommendations not to confer an award for service for RAAF personnel stationed at Ubon in Thailand between 1965 and 1968.