Battles recalled

WITH Vietnam Veterans Day being commemorated tomorrow (Sunday August 18), the 50th anniversary of two lesser-known battles from the war will be highlighted.

Veterans association WA president Richard Williams told the Voice while the Battle of Long Tan would remain a focus of the commemoration because of its significance to the Australian war effort, he wanted to focus on the battles of Binh Ba and Hat Dich to broaden people’s knowledge about the Vietnam conflict.

The 78-day battle of Hat Dich was one of the longest out-of-province battles for the Aussies and counted as a victory.

The Viet Cong’s 274th Regiment was based in the area and it was planning a big offensive during the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet.

The Hat Dich battle cost 21 Australian and 31 South Vietnamese lives, while almost 200 were wounded, but it forced the Viet Cong to retreat and disrupted their preparations for the offensive.

• Vietnam veteran Richard Williams at the memorial in Kings Park; the service this year will shed light on lesser-known battles. Photo by Steve Grant

Binh Ba, also called Operation Hammer, was sparked when an Allied Centurion tank was damaged and its operator wounded while driving through an area thought to be relatively safe.

Just two hours later the under-strength D Company RAR was sent to sweep through the village of Binh Ba, supported by four Centurions and a troop of armoured troop carriers.

Over the next two days, the Australians fought from house to house; one in five homes were destroyed. There was one Australian death compared to about 107 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese casualties, and after the battle troops were able to pass through Binh Ba without fear of attack.

The Australian Civil Affairs Unit and engineering corps were heavily involved in rebuilding the village.

Mr Williams, who was conscripted and spent a year in Vietnam as a mechanic says knowledge about the war has in recent years gone beyond the protest songs and peace marches so popular in film.

“Students studying Australian history can choose to study the Vietnam War and we have a lot of students contacting us, looking for information.

“I think I’m still learning about it, and I was there for 12 months.”

The Vietnam Veterans Day service will be held at the Vietnam memorial on May Drive in Kings Park on Sunday (August 18) with a parade at 10.45am before the 11am service.

On Saturday (August 17), the association will also be holding grave-side commemorations from 2pm, starting at the Perth War Cemetery in Nedlands to honour the 61 WA servicemen who were killed in action.

by STEVE GRANT and MIREILLE CHRISTIE

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