Long Tan anniversary: Remembering victims of Vietnam War

Australian memorial at Long Tan. Source: Wikipedia/ Public Domain
Australian memorial at Long Tan. Source: Wikipedia/ Public Domain

A huge number of veterans turned out to attend an early-morning service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; while they stood outside to pay tribute, the names of 521 fallen Australian soldiers were displayed on the exterior of the building.

This service was to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan, where a company of 108 Australian soldiers was ambushed. During the battle, 18 Australian soldiers were killed and 24 wounded. Comparatively, the Viet Cong lost almost 1500 soldiers. A separate service was also held at the Vietnam War Memorial.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, a veteran of the Vietnam War himself, spoke to both crowds, telling them that Vietnam veterans were special among Australia’s veteran military personnel.

Brendan Nelson, the War Memorial director, talked about the Battle of Long Tan, describing it as, “the most dramatic battle, and costly, in which Australia was involved during the course of the Vietnam War.”

“It’s… a battle which has come to symbolize the Vietnam War, and the legacy from ANZAC which was carried by those young Australians,” he said.

In Brisbane, Paul de Jersey, Queensland Governor, laid a wreath beside 18 tiny white crosses in Brisbane’s ANZAC Square. The crosses represented the 18 Australians that died on the battlefield. Later that day at Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane, The Royal Australian Regiment’s 6th Battalion participated in a ceremonial parade that was inspected by Sir Peter Cosgrove.

A service was held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne where thousands came to pay respects. Sandy McCann, a Vietnam veteran stated “that the actions of the men at Long Tan saved many more lives.” He believes that the fierce resistance the Australian soldiers put at Long Tan earned them the respect of their enemy.

“Because of their actions at Long Tan, we were never engaged quite the same way again,” he said.

Dave Baker, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said that the events were very important for bringing the veterans together. “It’s heart-rendering. Pang to the heart and the heartstrings. Brings a tear to the eye today,” he said.

A ceremony for the 61 West Australians who died in the war held in Perth was attended by a group of former South Vietnamese soldiers.

“I remember the Australian soldiers [helped] the Vietnamese very [well], my country and my people, the Vietnamese people,” Ho-Ta Ha said.

On Tasmania’s north coast, in Devonport, a service for the sole Tasmanian soldier that died at Long Tan took place as well. “It took me quite a long time to digest the fact that we’d lost the baby of the family,” says Roxley McCormack, brother to Private Albert McCormack, the only fallen Tasmanian soldier.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE