On 18 August, we commemorate Vietnam Veterans’ Day on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan in 1966. We remember the sacrifices of those who died and say thank you to the Australians who served during the 10 years of our involvement in the Vietnam War.
Between 1962 and 1975, some 60,000 Australians were called to serve in Vietnam in the Army, Navy, and Airforce. More than 3,000 were wounded and 523 were killed as a result of their service.
Australian support for South Vietnam in the early 1960s was in keeping with the policies of other nations, particularly the United States, to stop the spread of communism in Europe and Asia. In 1961 and 1962 Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of the Government in South Vietnam requested assistance from the United States and its allies. Australia dispatched the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), also known as “the Team”. Their arrival in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 was the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In August 1964 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also sent a flight of Caribou transports to the port of Vung Tau.
In 1965 the United States Government requested further support. The Australian Government dispatched the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), in June 1965 to serve alongside the US 173d Airborne Brigade in Bien Hoa province.
The following year the Australian Government felt that Australia’s involvement in the conflict should be stronger. In March 1966 the government announced the dispatch of a task force to replace 1RAR, consisting of two battalions and support services (including a RAAF squadron of Iroquois helicopters), to be based at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy province. Unlike 1RAR, the task force was assigned its own area of operations and included conscripts who had been called up under the National Service Scheme, introduced in 1964.
At the height of the Australian involvement, it numbered some 8,500 troops. A third RAAF squadron (of Canberra jet bombers) was also committed in 1967, and destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) joined US patrols off the North Vietnamese coast. The RAN also contributed a clearance diving team and a helicopter detachment that operated with the US Army from October 1967.
By late 1970 Australia had begun to wind down its military effort in Vietnam. The 8th Battalion departed in November, but, to make up for the decrease in troop numbers, the Team’s strength was increased and its efforts became concentrated in Phuoc Tuy province. The withdrawal of troops and all air units continued throughout 1971 – the last battalion left Nui Dat on 7 November, while a handful of advisers belonging to the Team remained in Vietnam the following year. In December 1972 they became the last Australian troops to come home, with their unit having seen continuous service in South Vietnam for ten and a half years. Australia’s participation in the war was formally declared at an end when the Governor-General issued a proclamation on 11 January 1973. The only combat troops remaining in Vietnam were a platoon guarding the Australian embassy in Saigon (this was withdrawn in June 1973).
Today is an opportunity for us not only to remember the 523 brave Australians who paid the ultimate price, but it is also a chance for us to recognise all who served and put their life on the line in Vietnam.