VIETNAM veterans have united in a last ditch bid to correct an injustice where a bureaucratic rule saw National Servicemen miss out on a campaign medal.
The veterans are using Vietnam Veterans’ Day today on the 49th anniversary of the iconic battle of Long Tan — where 18 Australians including 11 National Servicemen or Nashos were killed in action — to push the Abbott Government to grant them the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (RVCM).
More than 15,300 Nashos served in Vietnam and more than 200 were killed.
The Defence Honours and Awards Review Tribunal has conducted two inquiries into the Vietnam Medal and has cited the 181-day “in-country” qualifying rule and the lack of a contemporary Government of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) to deny the men the medal.
Some 3000 Royal Australian Navy personnel were awarded the RVCM and they never even set foot on Vietnamese soil.
The man behind the push to have the 181-days halved to 90-days, Veteran Richard Barry who served 149 days as a reinforcement in Vietnam, said the lack of action had caused a deep division within the veteran community and a negative decision would be a grave injustice.
“It will be a blight on the faithful service of National Servicemen who were sent to fight oppression in a foreign country,” Mr Barry said.
“The same people who were willing to lay down their lives to achieve freedom. These same people are still suffering from accepted war caused disabilities and are ashamed to march on ANZAC Day.”
Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Darren Chester said the government would respond to the inquiry report in the “near future”.
“I have a great deal of respect for our Vietnam veterans community and recognise the significant level of interest and concern regarding the awarding of this medal,” he said.
One of the most compelling cases involves a veteran called Peter Slack-Smith who fought at Long Tan and was forced to return home to the family farm when his father fell ill.
His Platoon Commander Dave Sabben, who received a belated Medal for Gallantry, for the battle pleaded with Parliamentary Secretary in charge of medals, Darren Chester, to tick Mr Slack-Smith’s medal.
“Once the way has been blasted through the barricade that’s been built by former representatives, the way forward to heal the grievances of the other 3000-plus may become an easier path,” Mr Sabben said.
“Hell — you could become legends, at least with some 3000 former Nashos.”
Both the National Servicemen’s Association and Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia strongly support the cause.
“Many National Servicemen, because of the limit of their obligation, served three months on active service in Vietnam,” the Federation said.
“During that time many were involved in dangerous operations. Some distinguished themselves in combat. To deny them eligibility for the RVCM is unfair.
“We recommend an eligibility period of 90 days as remedy.”
The Association also argued that 90 days was fair and urged the government to act to urgently rectify the situation.
George Mansford was a regular soldier who served in Malaya, Korea and Vietnam and he said it was an honour to serve alongside National Servicemen backed by the strong principle of “one in all in”.
“It is time for fair and just recognition for such comrades in arms. After all, it’s still ‘one in, all in’ isn’t it?”