Monday, 22 August 2016

Long Tan 50 Years On

Last goodbye: Private Douglas Salveron’s family farewelling him with the first intake of conscripts. The bus in the background took the conscripts to their training destinations. Pic courtesy Catholic Leader

No doubt, gentle reader, you've been assailed in the media about the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan.

It has been a gift to them, and to the tour companies escorting groups around the site, although this went pear-shaped for some of the returning diggers with the Vietnamese government's reaction.

As usual the diggers get the rough end of the pineapple. It was forever thus.

Harry Smith's remarks on the debacle are worth repeating -

"I was told over three weeks ago that Long Tan was not to be mentioned. The enemy were badly defeated and suffered a lot of casualties and we were not to highlight Long Tan," he said.
And -
"The way it's turned out is that Long Tan has been advertised on tickets and advertised on brochures and various things, which is what the Hanoi government said not to happen. It's happened and therefore they've pulled the blind down."
"If the Japanese wanted a memorial in Darwin for the pilots that they lost in the bombing of Darwin and they sent 3000 people to that monument we'd be up in arms too."
It was, after all, a commemoration, not a fairground sideshow charging admission.

I have been to the Long Tan site twice. First time was as a rifleman in 5 platoon B Coy 7 RAR in April 1970 when we harboured up there prior to a company move into our AO for our second operation. 

We walked in during the night along a dry creek bed rather than being choppered in to preserve the element of surprise. It worked,as we had our first contact a few days later, but not before we lost one digger who died of heat exhaustion as a result of the physical stress of the brutal secure insertion..

The second time was with my two adult sons in 2006. We were travelling with a party of 8RAR veterans. We didn't hold any kind of ceremony, but stood silently for a minute or two.

It's amazing to see what crawls out from under a rock to exploit such events. Michael Smith News is a clear example. Unfortunately, once again, the old adage "soldiers are collateral" looms large.

Perhaps a more fitting tribute to the fallen at Long Tan is contained in Yesterday's Catholic Leader. It's more fitting, because it honours the diggers, and those who mourn their loss.

One of those who died was Frank Topp, from Helidon, down the range from here. I wnt to school with him at Downlands college, where he was an occasional protector for me. I was very small for my age, 1000 kilometres from home, and in those days (the early 1960s) there were no anti-bullying programmes.

Frank was a fairly large lad, and stood up for me.

I had no idea he had been killed at Long Tan until I came across his grave at Helidon Catholic cemetery in 2003. I was deputising for our Regional Director at the funeral service of a Teacher Aide's son who was killed in a motor accident, and noticed the characteristic ADF headstone.

Frank was killed in the first few minutes of the battle. He had been marched into 6 RAR  from Reo company the day before the battle. He would not have had time to get to know the men he died with.

From the Leader -

 Every year Brisbane woman Frankie O’Leary carries a flag of honour for her brother in the Anzac Day parade.

The full-sized Australian flag was presented to her family with the name of her brother Private Douglas J. Salveron, 6 RAR, embossed on it, recognising his role in the Battle of Long Tan 50 years ago, on August 18.
Douglas Salveron was 20 when he was conscripted into the army, and 21 when he died in jungle battle in Vietnam.
“He was a forward scout. That means you’re the first person going forward,” Ms O’Leary, who was a year older than her brother, said. “He was killed early in the battle. 
“They found the boys all lying in a line on a little raised mound with their rifles still in their hands.”
Ms O’Leary said that when soldiers came to recover the bodies, there was a gunshot because one of the boys still holding his rifle had his finger firmly on the trigger.
“It was terribly sad,” Ms O’Leary, who received the news by telegram while living in Townsville, said.
“I was pregnant at the time. And I thought I don’t want to have a son because he will be called up to go to war.

Lest we forget.

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