50th Anniversary of the battle of Long Tan.
While waiting in Singapore to fly to Perth this Friday after completing the SE Asian leg of the Long Ride Home I can now take a moment to reflect back on my ride through Vietnam, in particular my ride to Long Tan and Nui Dat. Today, 18 August, marks the 50th Anniversary of the battle of Long Tan where an Australian infantry company made up largely of National Servicemen delivered a bloody nose to a Vietnamese Army regiment, admittedly with a little help from our artillery, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and mother nature in the form of torrential downpour as the battle took place hindering the advancing enemy soldiers.
The ride took me again to Nui Dat a few weeks back and I was honoured to have my troop commander from 45 years ago, Robin McBride, join me from Melbourne for a reunion and dialogue with our former enemy. The occasion threw up the opportunity to meet some of the old foe in the form of a group of war veterans from the local Vietnam Veterans Association Ba Ria branch (former NVA and Viet Cong members). In many hours of discussion and fraternising it was not hard to work out that these vets had been dealing with their own past and the PTSD devils that have haunted many of us over the years.
As I write this post I am aware that more than 1000 Australians have flocked to Vietnam to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan in the former rubber plantation so close to our old base at Nui Dat. I am also aware of the impact our celebrations are likely to have on the local people around Long Tan Hamlet in that many of them lost fathers, husbands, sons and brothers in the fighting back then and while the Vietnamese government was prepared to allow the memorial service to go on I think they became a little less sure about the add-on activities that were planned.
Long Tan may be sacred ground to us but it is also sacred to the Vietnamese as well. The Long Tan memorial site is the size of a squash court at its best and surrounded by young rubber sapling trees 2 meters high. The local villagers make their living from this plantation, so I scratch my head in amazement that this organised event at Long Tan would not accommodate so many people without damaging the crops in some way and upsetting the locals.
I have had the pleasure of re-visiting Vietnam over many years now, and would like to make the following points:
- the Vietnamese government allowed Australia to establish a war memorial at Long Tan, showing their understanding and sensitivity.
- the Vietnamese government allows foreigners to visit Long Tan and nearby Nui Dat, now a restricted army training area, providing they get approval.
- most visitors obtain the necessary approval, but many do not, which I think is somewhat irresponsible.
- a rogue visitor makes off with the original Long Tan Plaque, which is irresponsible and culturally insensitive.
- veterans place their own personal memorial plaques throughout the old Nui Dat task force area without approval.
- the Vietnamese government transfers the original Long Tan Cross to a museum at Dong Nai to protect it from vandals, which is commendable.
- the Vietnamese government allows an Anzac Service to be held at the Long Tan memorial every year.
- unlicensed expat tour guides take Australian and New Zealand tourists to Nui Dat and Long Tan without approval, again, somewhat an irresponsible action by both parties.
- the Vietnamese government has graciously loaned the original Long Tan Cross to the Australian War Museum in recent years.
- we can be our own worst enemy at times and I believe the abuse now happening at Long Tan may see this sacred place closed to us forever.
In closing, the North Vietnamese at the time won the war because the US and it parts its partner, Australia, didn't have the will of its own people for the war to continue.
Are we now seeing the same ? Did the organisers of the 50th anniversary of the Long Tan battle forget to obtain the will of the Long Tan hamlet in allowing hundreds of foreigners to interfere with their way of life, living and stirring up bad long-dormant memories of their own?
You be the judge.
The Long Ride Home, 2016