A THOUSAND WORDS | 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN
By Donna Killeen
The Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
August 18th 2016 was the most glorious day in Melbourne. Not only do we live in a relatively peaceful city, but the sun was streaming through its windows and streets. The crowd of thousands, who visited the Shrine of Remembrance on this special day, had a well-earned reprieve from the long winter and some hope for better days ahead.
It wasn’t like that 50 years ago in the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam. There was a torrential down pour, already on its 4th day and not letting up. And much like the down pour of the war, no one knew when it was going to end.
The battle of Long Tan in 1966 was a significant battle in Australia’s military history where the North Vietnamese outnumbered the Delta Coy 6th Royal Australian Regiment by 25 to 1. With timely back up, the regiment of 108 men won that battle at the cost of the lives of 18 Australian soldiers. The 50th Anniversary recognises those Australians involved in the Vietnam War, be it at Long Tan or in other parts of Vietnam, as well as those on home soil.
The Vietnam War affected many nations like no other war had before. The conflict was not just on the ground, in the trenches and tunnels of Vietnam; it was also in the minds, hearts and souls of entire populations. And was the object of demonstrations on the streets of many countries throughout its twenty year duration.
The conflict and its consequences still remain within the souls of returned soldiers, their families, sympathizers and the youth of today. The troops left the conflict in Vietnam behind, only to return to a new conflict at home. The parades and celebrations given to the returned service men of previous wars were mostly absent, and many veterans met a population which, fueled by the televised imagery of the tragedies in Vietnam, was ready to blame them for having participated. The returned soldiers even faced discrimination from RSL members who did not consider the recent conflict equal to the wars of the past.
In his address to the crowd attending the commemoration, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews acknowledged and apologized for the treatment given to our returned soldiers. The crowd in turn acknowledged this with their cheers, claps, silence and perpetual respect.
The 500 plus commemorative flags frolicked in the wind to the drum roll and respectfully fell silent for almost a minute at the crucial time, despite the blustery day. I Still Call Australia Home was sung by the young voices of the Victorian Children’s choir, the next generation of Australians who will remember these men and what they went through.
The Shrine of Remembrance was made to honour our soldiers, and today, under sunshine and skies as blue as our flag, we witness the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. The canons fire three ear piercing salutes, right down the corridor of St Kilda Road, whilst the eternal flame dances at the feet of the cenotaph that signifies too many wars.
“Honour the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”
That is the motto of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. A motto that addresses the associations belief that a war is not over when the soldiers come home, but rather when the damage they endured is recognized, healed and valued by the society they return to.
To mark the anniversary of this battle and the lives lost, as well as all battles fought by Australian soldiers in Vietnam, the Shrine of Remembrance is hosting Behind the Wire, a collection of images and stories of Vietnam veterans. The exhibit will run until 23rd October 2016 and provides everyone with an opportunity to understand the veterans’ experience during and beyond this war… Lest we forget.
Donna Killeen is a regular contributor to the Northsider, emerging professional photographer and keen humanitarian. To see more of her work with us please press here.