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25 August, 2020

Longreach commemorates Vietnam Veterans Day

THE ANNUAL Long Tan Day service to commemorate one of the most historic battles of the Vietnam War was conducted in Edkins Park on Tuesday.

By Hamish Hart

Long Tan remembered...Longreach's Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony was held at Edkins Park last Tuesday

Held on the anniversary of the definitive Battle of Long Tan in 1966, the day remembers and honours the sacrifices made by more than 60,000 men and women who served during Australia’s 10-year involvement in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1972.

The Service was held under the auspices of the Longreach Returned Services League Sub-branch.

RSL Sub-branch president, Gavin Farry, presented a comprehensive history of the war, and especially acknowledged local Vietnam veterans, Doug Winterbottom, Jim Egan, Peter Lacy and recently-deceased Robert McClymont.

“The Vietnam War was the longest war in modern history,” Mr Farry said. “It raised political passion and moral controversy throughout the western world and played an important part in shaping the political destiny of not only South-East Asia, but of the whole world.

“This year we mark 56 years since our combat troops were first deployed to Vietnam. The First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment began arriving in Vietnam in March 1965 and were placed under the command of the Americans.

“The working arrangement was short lived. In 1966 the Australian Government increased our commitment to Task Force strength with supporting arms.

“This saw about 7500 troops deployed under Australian command.

“Sadly, 521 were killed with more than 3000 wounded in action. Of those killed, 212 were national servicemen and six were missing in action. All bodies have now been recovered with the last being retrieved in 2009.”

It was a war like no other for ‘365 days and a wakey’.

Mr Farry said that with the introduction of helicopters into the battlefield, there was little respite for the troops. They could be moved quickly from one point to another, and could stay out in the jungle for up to six weeks, being re-supplied with ammunition when needed, and food and water every six to seven days by air.

“There was no rest; you could probably say that out of a 12-month tour, many could spend up to 11 months out in the field.”

Mr Farry stressed the importance of raising awareness about the mental toll war wages on veterans.

“Sadly for many, the war is not over yet,” he said. “The number of servicemen who have taken their own lives will never really be known.

“This tragedy is continuing today because the soldiers’ battle wasn’t over when they completed their tour. Many found a bigger battle was to be fought in their homeland.

“Because of conscription and the rising body count, the feelings of some Australians, fellow countrymen of the troops, were hard to fathom and many found themselves open to all types of abuse, being alienated and ostracised.

“Vietnam Veterans Day started as Long Tan Day, and it is appropriate today to reflect on the battle of Long Tan, the costliest battle in human terms that Australia was engaged in during the Vietnam War.

“This battle is written in the history books as one of the finest in Australian military history. Sadly, we suffered the loss of 18 young men.

“Those men killed were Pte Richard Aldersea, Cpl Peter Clements, Pte Glen Drabble, Pte Kenneth Gant, Pte Earnest Grant, Pte Victor Grice, Pte James Houston, LCpl Jack Jewry, Pte Paul Large, Pte Albert McCormack, Pte Dennis McCormack, Pte Warren Mitchell, Pte Douglas Salverton, 2nd Lt Gordon Sharp, Pte David Thomas, Pte Francis Topp, Pte Maxwell Wales and Pte Colin Whiston.

“In the long shadow of war, we gather here today to commemorate the values that shone in the wake of the service men and women who served and continue to serve us — courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship, and above all, loyalty to Australia.”

Community members and representatives from local organisations, including the RSL Memorial Services Club, RSL Sub-branch, Queensland Police Service, and Longreach Regional Council laid wreaths with bagpiper Angus McPhee providing the musical backdrop.

Longreach State High School student, Malcolm Strong, performed the Last Post and Rouse once all wreaths were laid at the park memorial, with Nick Backstrom singing the Australian National Anthem to conclude the service.

The service was Longreach’s inaugural mass remembrance for 2020 following the cancellation of Anzac Day marches and memorial services earlier this year.

The national cancellation resulted in the launch of RSL Queensland’s Light up the Dawn campaign which encouraged people to stand outside their driveways on April 25 at 6am to remember Australia and New Zealand war veterans.

During light refreshments at the town’s RSL Club, Mr Farry said he was pleased with the turn-out of nearly 40 locals.

“It was a good day with great conditions,” Mr Farry said. “There was a good turn-out, particularly from locals, veterans and their families, and the Council.

“Given that we were all shut down for Anzac Day, this is the first opportunity we’ve had to come together, and it was great.”


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