Harry Smith’s perseverance pays off

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt has acknowledged the tireless efforts of retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, over almost half a century, to seek recognition for his soldiers.

Minister for Defence Personnel Dan Tehan announced yesterday in Canberra that he would recommend 10 soldiers who fought in the Battle of Long Tan be awarded a military honour or have their existing honour upgraded.

“I’m pleased that Harry’s perseverance has finally paid off. I spoke with Harry yesterday to congratulate him and his soldiers on finally getting the recognition they deserve.

“In my maiden speech, I gave Harry this commitment: ‘we will find a way to recognise his soldiers. As a Nation, we are indebted to Harry, and to his team. We live our lives, in this wonderful country, because of their sacrifice’.”

Mr Pitt moved a Private Members Bill in September 2014 that called for justice, recognition and acknowledgement for the men of Delta Company who fought in the Battle of Long Tan.

“There is no need for more inquiries, reviews or investigations. Enough of administrative delays and excuses! Fifty years is ample time to do what is right. We are the government of the day, and, in my opinion, an injustice has been done that must be addressed,” Mr Pitt said in his motion.

Mr Tehan will write to the Prime Minister and the Governor-General seeking approval to accept each recommendation from the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal review into the actions of 13 individual soldiers during the battle.

The Battle of Long Tan took place on 18 August 1966. It was the most costly single battle fought by Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War, involving 105 Australians and three New Zealanders from D Company 6RAR and more than 2,000 enemy troops. A total of 17 Australians were killed in action and 25 were wounded, one of whom later died from his wounds.

D Company were greatly assisted by an ammunition resupply by RAAF helicopters, close fire support from New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery, together with additional artillery support from the Australian task force base at Nui Dat and the arrival of reinforcements in APCs as night fell.

The Tribunal recommended Medals of Gallantry for Lieutenant Adrian Roberts, Sergeant Frank Alcorta and Lance Corporal Barry Magnussen (deceased) and Commendations for Gallantry for Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp (deceased), and Privates Neil Bextrum, Ron Brett (deceased), Ian Campbell, William Roche, Geoffrey Peters and Noel Grimes.

The Tribunal did not recommend a Victoria Cross for the late Warrant Officer Class 2 Jack Kirby (deceased).

The Tribunal found the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to WO2 Kirby in 1966 was, “the appropriate award to recognise [his] distinguished conduct and leadership in the field during the Battle.”

For Corporal William Moore (deceased) and Private Allen May, the Tribunal recommended the Chief of Army’s original decision to not award an honour be affirmed.

The 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan will be commemorated on August 18, Vietnam Veterans’ Day.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Keith’s Private Member’s Bill speech: https://keithpitt.com.au/news/pmb-recognition-long-tan-veterans

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