Long Tan Memorial Unveiling: Willie Walker

A cross made of concrete with steel reinforcing was cast by the Assault Pioneer Platoon 6 RAR; it was nearly 2 metres tall and weighed over 100 kg. On the third anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, the 18th August 1969, the site for the cross was secured by 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn. Ten survivors of the battle formed a Guard of Honour for the cross as it was set in place.

The cross remained in place till the end of the war when it was removed by a local farmer to mark the grave of his father who was the local Catholic priest. It eventually ended up in the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa, some years later it was discovered by an ex‐member of 6 RAR. Negotiations had been underway with the Vietnamese for some time to have the cross repatriated back to Australia, however the Vietnamese have agreed to a loan of the cross for nine months.

The afternoon of the 16th August I found myself outward bound from Auckland to Sydney in the company of Major Andrew Fortune, MNZM the BC of 161 Battery and WO2 Nic Shields, BSM 161 Battery. An uneventful flight saw us arrive safely in Sydney, the usual immigration and customs routine, a quick browse through duty free, then find the hire car.

With the baggage safely aboard we were off, due to the Major's extraordinary map reading skills (GPS) we were able to negotiate the traffic minefield out of Sydney and even managed to somehow dodge the toll sections of the motorway. Took a "comfort stop" and a burger, finally arrived at our accommodation about 6.30 pm, the temperature in Canberra that night and for the remainder of our stay was on a par with Waiouru.....bloody cool.

17th August, as our first activity was not till midday the first task was a recce of the local area to locate possible sites of interest for further investigation at a later time (pubs). A last minute check of medals, some ironing, shoe shine and we are all set for the day. The unveiling ceremony was held in the War Memorial, it was attended by the "who's who" from the diplomatic and military circles, next‐of‐kin of the KIA at Long Tan and of course the diggers from D Company and Harry Smith. It was a very emotional service for all, especially next‐of‐kin. For me to actually see the "original cross" and having been to the original site has brought some sense of closure to me.

I had the privilege of meeting the Governor General of Australia, Ms Quentin Bryce, very nice lady, and for the first time Bob Grandin who flew one of the resupply choppers during the battle and Adrian Roberts the Troop Commander of the APC Troop carrying the relief column which arrived in the nick of time. Meeting these two men who were instrumental in different ways to our survival that day was very special . Also had a chat with Martyn Dunn (Ex Major General) who is the New Zealand High Commissioner in Canberra. With the official ceremony over we retired back to our hotel to rest up for the evenings activities.

That evening we three were invited by the "Long Tan Company" at RMC Duntroon to Happy Hour. Within the Company each Platoon is named after a major "player in the battle. Hence there is a "Stanley Platoon". 
In the company were three New Zealand cadets who are enjoying there training and very much looking forward to graduating and seeing some action. It was a very enjoyable evening and after many stubbies, in the company of a New Zealand WO Instructor we wind our way down to the WOs and Sgts Mess and indulge ourselves with more stubbies. With midnight fast approaching and our carriage awaiting, we made a tactical withdrawal via an FUP (McDonalds) back to base.

18th August we attended the Vietnam Veteran's Day Remembrance Service at the National Vietnam Memorial on ANZAC Parade in Canberra. Again there was a full turnout of the "top brass" including the Governor General and Vietnam Veterans. There were a number of Kiwi Vets there including Allan Birch RNZSigs who served with 161 Bty, I hadn't seen Allan for over forty years, so it was good to catch up. The days service was focused on Vietnam Veterans and in particular the Army Training Teams who were celebrating the 50th year since there first deployment to Vietnam.

After the service we flagged away the invitation to the local RSL and headed back to our hotel. During our recce on the first day we picked out a location to watch the All Blacks /Wallabies Bledisloe Cup match which was being played in Sydney that night. After finding a good "hull down" position in the bar we settled down to harassing the locals after each All Black score, also in the pub was a bunch of Kiwi's from Whanganui who were working in NSW on a power project. So, plenty of support for the Abs.

With the bewitching hour fast approaching and an early 6am start the next day it was decided to call it a day. However, the BSM spotted a bar which we had to have a drink in, at this stage the good Major who was the designated driver back to Sydney decided to call it a night. This left the BSM and I holding up the bar until the "bouncer" built like the proverbial outhouse decided we were no longer welcome in the bar, after some Kiwi diplomacy we managed to withdraw from the bar with all our limbs intact and head home.

The car trip to Sydney the next morning was very quiet, the BSM and I having slept most of the time, thanks to our very capable driver we arrive at the airport and do what you have to do, board the plane and head home. It had been a hectic few days but a very worthwhile trip. Lastly I must thank the CO 16 Field Regiment who's very welcome assistance enabled me to make the pilgrimage, and to my two travelling companions, it was great having you onboard.

Willie Walker