Battle Of Long Tan Anniversary Sparks Call To Support Veterans
It's gone down in Australian history as the embodiment of bravery, teamwork and endurance.
Vietnam Veteran's Day and the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan both fall on Sunday, with veterans and their families remembering one of the greatest battles in Australia's wartime history.
It was only in the aftermath of the Battle of Long Tan that it became clear what Aussie Diggers had achieved.
Against all odds, just 108 Australian soldiers from a variety of Companies, Battalions and Regiments unknowingly walked into an enemy stronghold and defeated the over 1000-strong force.
A number of New Zealand soldiers and American air support were also involved in the victory -- but the cost was high on both sides. At least 245 bodies were found at the battleground, with 17 Australian soldiers killed in action and a further 25 wounded. Another soldier died in hospital a few days later, taking the death toll to 18.
Memorial services were held across Australia on Sunday to mark the dual-occasion.
Wreath-laying ceremonies were held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, at Martin Place Cenotaph in Sydney and the Murray Bridge RSL near Adelaide.
Fly pasts in Canberra and the Sunshine Coast were held on Sunday morning to support services and other activities held for Vietnam Veterans Day.
A memorial day service organised by RSL WA is scheduled in Kings Park in Perth and is set to start at 10.30am local time.
Regional centres including Bendigo in Victoria, Bomaberry on the NSW South Coast, Wingham on the NSW Mid-North Coast, Tin Can Bay, Ipswich, Airlie Beach and Mount Larcom in Queensland -- to name a small few -- also held local memorial services.
The memorial day is also being used to highlight the ongoing hardships ex-servicemen and women endure once leaving the defence force.
Labor's minister for homelessness Jason Clare says recent figures show one in 10 people sleeping rough is a veteran, while there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of veterans seeking help.
"That tells me there is something seriously wrong here, it isn't just homelessness," Clare told ABC television on Saturday.
He said young men who leave the defence force are twice as likely to die by suicide as other men in society.
"We asked them to put their lives at risk for us and they're taking their own lives here or they find themselves sleeping in the park. We need to do a lot more," Clare said.
Veterans Minister Darren Chester agrees more work needs to be done in this area, particularly in the transition period when leaving the forces if they don't get a job or their home situation is not stable.
"There has been a lot done already in terms of providing free mental health care for all veterans and their families," Chester told ABC television.
He said there is more to be done in the communities where veterans live, "rather than them having to move to perhaps a metropolitan area to access some of the special support services."
Chester is urging Australians across the country to commemorate the service of all those who served in the Vietnam War and the Battle of Long Tan.
"Almost 60,000 Australians served during the Vietnam War, and tragically 521 of them died with a further 3,000 wounded," Chester said.
What Happened At Long Tan?
The Battle of Long Tan started with an attack by the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communist forces) in the early hours of 17th August 1966 during the decade-long Vietnam War.
The Viet Cong wanted to infiltrate the newly established Australian base at Nui Dat, located in the centre of Phuoc Tuy. Troops fought in a rubber plantation in torrid conditions including muddy terrain and torrential rain.
The battle commenced a few kilometres from Nui Dat at the abandoned village of Long Tan at about 4pm on August 18, and saw an hours-long enemy attack. The Viet Cong even abandoned their guerilla-style battle tactics, where they used trees and jungle cover, and moved forward in human waves. Australian soldiers fired rounds of ammunition at their foes, sometimes at random, into the wet darkness as the sun began to set.
When relief arrived from D Company and B Company, their .50 calibre heavy machine guns blasted through the rubber and scattered the Viet Cong's front lines. The VC pulled back into the jungle's darkness and the Battle of Long Tan was over.
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