Long Tan Medal

Dear Mr Howard

While I was in the Army I received two medals for serving in Vietnam, as did everyone who completed more than six months. Then I received two more medals for long service – including the National medal that police, firefighters etc receive. Since I’ve been out (20 years) I’ve received another three – the Australian Service Medal because I happened to be in PNG before 1975, the Australian Active Service Medal because I was on active service in Vietnam (but hey, I’ve already got two medals for that), and yesterday the Australian Defence Medal for completing a period of enlistment. I believe over a million people are entitled to this last medal.

They’ve also made a National Service Medal for those unfortunate enough to have been drafted.

Your response to the upgrading is bullshit because it has been done before. One of my friends had his MID upgraded to an MC about ten years ago when they reassessed the situation, as did some others.

The Government has to make a million ADMs, how much would it cost to make a few hundred Long Tan Medals? Or to upgrade the medals of those who exhibited brave conduct? Or are the Long Tan veterans the new “sorry” people?

BillyK

10 Comments

ButchAugust 18th, 2006 at 8:52 pm

I think they should be entitled to more than dolls and cigarette boxes, however do you give the medals to the other companies and units involved as well, I think A and B company were also heavily involved in the battle even thought they weren’t subjected to the ferocity of the main battle. We seem to be giving medals out for just turning up lately, I think the Government is giving out medals to keep us old diggers happy. The last Anzac day that I went to, some vets both vietnam and later conflicts, such as Timor and Iraq had more medals than an American marine. But back to the main topic, yes they should be rcognised for thier bravery wit a Bravery medal.

HarveyAugust 18th, 2006 at 9:27 pm

Might help to see what the PM actually said on the subject of ‘upgrading’. Here are a few media reports.
Cheers, Harvey.
*********************

“PM considers Vietnam medal review”
from ABC News

The Prime Minister has raised the prospect of the Federal Government giving its approval for Australian veterans of Long Tan to display a south Vietnamese unit citation awarded after the battle.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the battle but the citation has never been officially approved.

Some individual veterans have been given approval to wear south Vietnamese medals awarded after the battle, but officials are still trying to verify the situation for the unit citation for gallantry.

John Howard has been reluctant to agree to a review of Australian medals that were downgraded for some Long Tan veterans.

But Mr Howard says he has discussed the issue of the south Vietnamese unit citation with the commander of the company of soldiers involved in the battle.

“I am persuaded, on some of the material I’ve seen, that there could well be a case for the same approach being taken in relation to that citation as was taken in relation to the individual awards made by the south Vietnamese government,” he said.

Company commander Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith says there is a precedent for a review.

“I’m very well aware of the entrenched view that the umpire’s decision should stand,” he said.

“But unfortunately the umpire’s decision, in my opinion, was incorrect and some of the umpires were decorated at the expense of those who fought in combat.”

Time to honour Vietnam vets properly’
The Age – August 18, 2006.

Forty years after Australia’s longest and most unpopular war, national leaders have sent a clear message that it’s time to bring Vietnam veterans in from the cold.

It took Australia 20 years to officially welcome the veterans home.

But only this week, a further 20 years on, has the nation seemed ready to fully embrace them as well.

The signs came in Prime Minister John Howard’s apologies, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley’s tears, Governor-General Michael Jeffery’s reference to a national “shame” and former defence chief Peter Cosgrove’s lament on how society has failed the veterans.

The nation paused on Friday to remember the 520 Diggers who died during the divisive 10-year conflict which sent hundreds of thousands of their fellow Australians into the streets in protest.

The commemoration fell on the 40th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan, Australia’s bloodiest engagement in Vietnam.

….Former defence force chief Peter Cosgrove, meanwhile, said society had failed to address the feelings of isolation and alienation thousands of Vietnam veterans suffered.General Cosgrove, a platoon commander in Vietnam, said many veterans had been not only ignored but vilified.

Australians should try to “retrieve those now middle-aged and elderly men back into society in a way that continually reminds them they’re honoured, they’re great Australians and they did their bit”.
****************************

“Ghosts of Vietnam’s cruelty return to haunt house”
by Mark Dodd – The Australian – August 18, 2006.

…Mr Howard stopped short of recommending upgraded bravery medals for Long Tan veterans but formally acknowledged what he described as their sense of grievance and injustice.

Following the 1996 release of official records, it was discovered changes had been ordered at a senior military and political level to downgrade Long Tan medal recommendations made by battlefield commanders.

Describing the nation’s “collective failure” to honour the service of its 50,000 Vietnam War veterans, Mr Howard told parliament: “I hope with the passage of time they will understand the goodwill of the current generation of Australians in relation to that matter.”

*********

Michael CarrAugust 19th, 2006 at 1:13 pm

Hi Bill,

I disagree. Bravery awards were effectively rationed during the SVN time by the DOD. As a consequence many soldiers were nominated for awards but the ration scale dictated that COs received DSOs, some OCs received MCs for the efforts of their men (Witness the GG??), and a few other medals were issued to a few junior officers and men. To single out Long Tan vets on an emotive base is doing a disservice to all the others who missed out because of bureaucratic idiocy. Imagine rationing bravery; the mind boggles. The pity of it is that Australia does not have a Distinguished Unit citation which would solve problems such as this one.

Cheers,

Michael

*************

You have a point, I guess this is part of the can of worms the PM refers to. But perhaps we should re-examine and fix the whole problem. It just gets shabbier and shabbier for the Vietnam Vets.

Bill

GregAugust 20th, 2006 at 9:39 am

Have to agree with Michael. Because LT has received more publicity doesn’t justify heaping awards on those involved. The scale does not change the dynamics of fear and bravery. Is a company of NVA pitted against section any worse for those involved than a larger scale action such as LT? Dead is just as dead in either circumstance. I witnessed engagements which were not on the scale of LT but just as ferocious and just as frightening and where individual heroism was just as commendable. The allocation system was a joke, as Michael mentioned, and I also saw medals awarded on the basis of ration rather than individual bravery. We have had one re-appraisal so it’s probably best to leave it at that. The individuals concerned know what they did.

johnAugust 20th, 2006 at 6:36 pm

Hey Bill,

I must admit that I can see problems with granting gongs to Long Tan dudes – what about all the others that also missed out? The End of War awards that came out a few years ago only scratched the surface and left many still feeling left out. For instance, I can recall one contact of mine where two under strength pl had a severe battle with C3 bn of 274 Regt reinforced with a heavy weapons coy. In an afternoon battle extending to last light we suffered 1 killed and 37 wounded – some very seriously indeed. If it had not been for airpower, none of us would have survived. And guess what – not one bloody medal for anyone involved! As I know my experience is by no means an isolated incident, I, my NCO’s and soldiers and many non-recognised others would be entitled to feel somewhat wronged if retrospective awards only went to those who have had the most publicity.
John

JohnAugust 21st, 2006 at 5:20 pm

Bill,

I have nothing profound to say about your piece, but the proliferation of medals in recent times is a development that indicates a way of thinking.

It is in the first instance a response to the manipulation of the Gallipoli myth etc. by John Winston Howard. He has created the climate for things military to become important. Also the thriving defence industry (in the broad sense, those who benefit by fanning militarism within our society) has been quick to follow Howard’s lead and promote military service as part of our national identity.

On a personal level, the most spectacular beneficiary of this new militarism is Peter Cosgrove – followed by Mike Jeffries. Why Cosgrove should be regarded as a national hero needs explanation but I believe it is all part of the same push by vested interests. Howard also models himself on Menzies who did similar things, but in a more restrained manner. You might know that Menzies was a lieutenant in the Melbourne University Regiment but resigned his commission with the outbreak of WWI. It led to the taunt by Eddie Ward that it was sad that a man of Menzies stature, potentially a great military leader and probably an Australian Napoleon, had his military career cut short by the advent of war.

Howard, by the way, was a member of the Canterbury Boys’ High Air Cadets – only a shadow of his idol. I am rambling now but who the hell is Harry Smith, anyway? He carries no weight with Howard, obviously. There are probably reasons why retrospectivity in awards would creat difficulties – what about FSB Coral etc? But Howard looses nothing by knocking back recognition for a few people, when there is much more political benefit in handing out medals to thousands – or was it millions, as you say. Medals for anything now as long as panders to vested defence interests and there are potentially a lot of recipients (votes). The whole bloody country will be able to march on ANZAC day if this madness doesn’t stop soon.

Regards,

John

AntibushFebruary 15th, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Watch subject. Bush goes ballistic about other countries being evil and dangerous, because they have weapons of mass destruction. But, he insists on building up even a more deadly supply of nuclear arms right here in the US. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
Are we safer today than we were before?
The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.

GuranMarch 12th, 2007 at 8:32 am

The points made by Greg and John probably underlie the advice on honours policy provided to the government – i.e., it is not possible to treat Long Tan in isolation, and it is not the role of a government 40 years after the fact to second-guess medal recommendations by commanders in the field, even if they were hamstrung by the quota operating at the time. I’m told that most decisions for the creation of new medals in recent years have been political ones, made against advice from the honours policy bureaucrats. Imagine, if forty years from now, the PM felt free to authorise the award of gallantry decorations to units deployed in Afghanistan now, for which recommendations were never made at the time? How much faith would the military have in their awards system? None. The quota in SVN was shitty, but if you break the rule for Long Tan, how do you justify not breaking the rule for any other campaign? You can’t. You’d end up awarding retrospective VCs for Australians in the Crimea. (Yes, I know that’s nonsensical, but that’s the point.)

Oh, and Michael, Australia does (now) have unit-based gallantry awards, but awarding them for actions that occurred before they existed faces the same retrospectivity issue as above – where do you stop?

Members of D Company 6RAR have received the US Presidential Unit citation, the Vietnam Medal, the South Vietnam Star, the AASM1945-75 ‘Vietnam’, at least nine of them have imperial gallantry awards of some kind, and many of them have been granted approval to accept and wear South Vietnamese individual gallantry awards (the ones the dolls and cigar boxes were presented in lieu of). Additionally, those nashos amongst them have the Anniversary of National Service 1951-72 Medal, and they’re all entitled to the Australian Defence Medal. Conceivably some of them can now legitimately wear eight medals from a single tour in Vietnam. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it. What I’m saying is, we’re talking about the government thinking long and hard about additional recognition (which is where this thread started). Additional recognition. I think it’s worth being sure it’s warranted, and not just minting a couple of hundred extra trinkets which are by themselves worthless, but in the wider context, are extremely damaging to the integrity of the honours system.

Justin SmileyApril 21st, 2007 at 1:53 am

Just a note to the above.
I’m a Brit from a military family. While I have never served in the forces both my father and uncle were involved in the ‘Bush Wars’ of the 1950s and 1960s (funny how that name has another resonance these days).
All they got was a General Service Medal (GSM) with clasps for each individual campaign. In particular my uncle, a Royal Marine, fought in Borneo, Radfan, Aden (twice) and Northern Ireland (making several tours of duty in the 1970s when it certainly wasn’t pretty). All he has is a GSM with four clasps-but all veterans know what those clasps mean.

Another point about gallantry medals. You cannot change the award retrospectively- my Granddad fought in Burma and was recommended for 3 MCs, he got one. He was also MID 5 times. As he used to say ‘some guys got nothing and were killed.’

However it slightly galls me when you read of people in Iraq being awarded MCs simply for tending to a wounded comrade while under fire (who wouldn’t?). As my drinking buddy Tom from 42 commando RM who saw action in the Falkands on Mount Harriet says: ‘we were doing that sort of thing all night and clearing trenches and bunkers!’ And he was wounded-he just got a campaign medal.

And lastly, unfortunately former PM John Major decided to downgrade the DSO to a non-gallantry status- an extraordinary thing to do when it has been in service as a gallantry award since 1886. The OBE used to be awarded for such things as ‘leadership’. In its place we have the meaningless piece of tin called the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. Why?

I think its important that gallantry is recognised, but not cheapened. As my chum Tom says “we all know who did what, and that’s that.”

BillykApril 21st, 2007 at 10:00 am

Thanks for your comment. It was a bit head scratching but pleasing (because they could clink) to get two medals for Vietnam. Then after 15 years another one for long service – fair enough, and then another one for long service for the same period that police, firemen etc got.

When I left the Army I had four medals, not quite a row, but reasonable.
Then the mailouts arrived – one for being in PNG before independence, not that anyone was fighting anyone. Then two more for just being in the Army.

I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m starting to look decidedly gallant for Anzac Day although I haven’t done anything since 1986, but the medals
still keep coming.

Give my regards to your family.

Cheers
Bill

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