Kev Dacey, a Swannie who no longer lives in Vietnam but remains very much a part of the team, has forwarded this article to the Blog reflecting upon his attendance at the Long Tan Cross Service on 18 August 2007.
The Australian Embassy in Hanoi and the Australian Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City co-ordinate the Vietnam Veterans Day each year on the 18th of August, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan
Click for background on the actual battle.
HCMC Consulate staff members were invited to attend and I took some visitors from Australia and HCMC along with me to the ceremony.
The actual site is in a private rubber plantation about two hours drive from HCMC. The memorial consists of a simple white cross first erected in 1969 by 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, which fought in the battle, during its second tour of duty. Unfortunately the original cross disappeared after the War.
It has since been replaced by representatives of the Australian Veterans Vietnam Reconstruction Group with the consent of the local authorities and the owners of the rubber plantation.
The Long Tan Cross has become an extremely important site for veterans and others who seek to recognize Australians who served in Vietnam.
Prior to the commencement of the ceremony some of the Vets who were involved in the battle gave an impromptu talk of what conditions were like on the actual day. Horribly wet and muddy, with extremely low visibility and leading up to dusk.
The ceremony started at 3.30pm and right on cue there was an enormous rumble of thunder, much to the consternation of some of the Veterans in attendance. Happily it did not rain like it did 41 years ago.
The service was very solemn and low key, in deference to the Vietnamese who fought in the war. No medals allowed, even for the current serving Australian military in attendance.
The speech by the Australian Ambassador, the prayer by the NZ Consul General and the recitation of the Ode by the rep from Dept of Veterans Affairs were all very moving.
Unfortunately the playing of the Last Post and Reveille was done using canned music but in the eerie silence of the rubber plantation under leaden skies, it was extremely emotional. The sound of 250 Aussies and Kiwis singing their respective National Anthems brought tears to the eyes of many people in attendance.
To me personally, it was extremely emotional and moving as I reflected that over 40 years ago I was called up in the first draft and had service deferred whilst I was studying. My thoughts were for the families of the fallen on both sides, and on the long term effects that this particular war has had on people both in Australia and in Vietnam. Quite chilling to be standing on the actual site with some of the Vets.
A sombre drive back to HCMC by all concerned.
Next day I was persuaded to participate in a Hash House Harriers run / walk, about an hour and a half outside HCMC in a rubber plantation which looked very similar to the one at Long Tan. You guessed it, right on cue at 3.30pm, the heavens opened, accompanied by thunder and lightning and we spent the next hour and a half slogging through the rain and the mud. It gave me a better insight as to how the Diggers must have suffered in similar conditions. Many beers later we arrived back in HCMC to have a hot shower.
Thought I would share this with you as one of the highlights of working in Vietnam.