Hon­ours for Viet­nam vets

Re­tired of­fi­cer fought for com­rades

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

A re­tired Aus­tralian army of­fi­cer has won a 50-year strug­gle to gain of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion for the brav­ery of 10 sol­diers who fought un­der his com­mand dur­ing Aus­tralia’s most costly bat­tle of the Viet­nam War.

Harry Smith, 83, was yes­ter­day pre­sented at Par­lia­ment House with a rec­om­men­da­tion by a re­view tri­bunal for nine sol­diers to be dec­o­rated for the first time and a 10th sol­dier to have his medal up­graded for courage shown dur­ing the Bat­tle of Long Tan in a Viet­namese rub­ber plan­ta­tion on Au­gust 18, 1966.

Smith, a re­tired lieu­tenant colonel, led a com­pany of 105 Aus­tralian sol­diers plus three New Zealan­ders sup­ported by ar­tillery that won a rain­drenched, three-hour bat­tle against more than 2,000 North Viet­namese and Viet Cong troops, the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment said. Eigh­teen Aus­tralians were killed and 24 wounded, while the Viet­namese were es­ti­mated to have lost hun­dreds of troops.

Within hours of the bat­tle end­ing, Smith said he rec­om­mended to his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer that 20 sol­diers un­der his com­mand be dec­o­rated. Ini­tially, only eight bat­tle vet­er­ans were hon­oured, in­clud­ing Smith. He was awarded the Star of Gal­lantry, the high­est hon­our af­ter the Vic­to­ria Cross.

He has since cam­paigned re­lent­lessly to have oth­ers recog­nised. Yes­ter­day’s verdict of the De­fence Hon­ours and Awards Ap­peal Tri­bunal — an in­de­pen­dent court es­tab­lished five years ago to in­ves­ti­gate such cases — brings the num­ber to 16, Smith said. The gov­ern­ment ac­cepted the rec­om­men­da­tion. Smith said he was happy with the de­ci­sion de­spite the tri­bunal dis­miss­ing his ap­pli­ca­tion for another sol­dier to be awarded his first decoration and another two dec­o­rated sol­diers to have their hon­ours up­graded.

“Jus­tice has been done,” Smith said. “I learnt from my years in the army that you have to keep on fight­ing and you even­tu­ally win.”

Three of the 10 vet­er­ans to re­ceive new hon­ours have died since the war.

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