John Schumann to sing the anthem of a generation, “I was only 19”, to 100 Vietnam veterans in the Hall of Memory before the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier
The Australian War Memorial will mark the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan and Vietnam Veterans’ Day in August with a number of moving tributes honouring the 60,000 Australian men and women who served our nation throughout the Vietnam War.
The battle of Long Tan was fought on 18 August 1966. 105 men from D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) and three New Zealanders from an artillery forward observation party from New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery, encountered a force of more than 2,000 Viet Cong soldiers. During the battle, 17 Australians were killed and a further 25 were wounded, one of whom later died of wounds. This was the highest number of Australian casualties incurred in any one engagement of the Vietnam War.
The losses on the Vietnamese side were at least 245 dead, an estimated 350 wounded, and three captured.
“The battle of Long Tan marks a moment of great courage and sacrifice for Australia in a war that was filled with tragedy and loss,” said Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson. “We will be honouring those soldiers who, led by Harry Smith, fought and died that day. We will also pause to remember all those affected by the war, their treatment upon returning home, and the wounds inflicted on our nation.”
The following program of commemoration will take place at the Memorial:
From dusk to dawn on 16, 17, and 18 August images from the Vietnam War will be projected onto the façade of the Memorial. Also projected on one side will be the names of the key theatres of the war, and on the other will scroll the names and ages of the 521 Australians commemorated on the Vietnam War Roll of Honour.
In the afternoon of 17 August John Schumann and Hugh McDonald will perform “I was only 19” in the Hall of Memory, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, to a group of 100 invited Vietnam veterans.
The Last Post Ceremony on 17 August will feature the story of Private Kenneth Gant, killed at the battle of Long Tan. John Schumann will perform “I was only 19” at the ceremony, streamed live on the Memorial’s website.
The Royal Military College, Duntroon, and Australian Defence Force Academy cadets have been invited to read the names on the Vietnam War Roll of Honour in the Memorial’s Commemorative Area from 5:30 am on 18 August.
A “stand to” similar to the Dawn Service will be held at the Stone of Remembrance in front of the Australian War Memorial at 7 am on 18 August.
The original guitar on which musician John Schumann recorded the iconic song “I was only 19” will go on permanent display in the Memorial’s Vietnam War Galleries, along with the song’s gold record.
Special performances of Dusted off by Brett Hunt will be presented to students in the Memorial’s BAE Systems Theatre on 17 and 18 August. This production tells the story of Hunt’s father joining the army, his service in Vietnam, and the subsequent struggles he endured after the war.
The Last Post Ceremony on 18 August will feature the story of Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp, the first Australian soldier to be killed in the battle of Long Tan. The ceremony will be supported by Australia’s Federation Guard.
These activities will complement the Department of Veterans’ Affairs reception in the Great Hall of Parliament House on the evening of 17 August and a service at the Vietnam War Memorial on Anzac Parade managed by a combined committee of the Vietnam Veterans of ACT and District on the morning of 18 August.
The Australian War Memorial is also negotiating with relevant Vietnamese authorities for the possible loan of the Long Tan Cross for this period.
More information about the commemorative events around the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan and Vietnam Veterans’ Day can be found at the Memorial’s website at: www.awm.gov.au/honouring-vietnam-veterans/.