WE REMEMBER: A crowd gathers in Ipswich to honour those who served in Vietnam.
WE REMEMBER: A crowd gathers in Ipswich to honour those who served in Vietnam.

Heroes still feel shunned, 50 years on

TORRENTIAL rain beat down on the Australian and New Zealand soldiers the day the Battle of Long Tan broke out.

In the days before there had been few signs of the Viet Cong forces, save for a short round of mortar fire and a spray of rifle bullets.

On the morning of August 18, 1966, patrols headed for the Long Tan rubber plantation.

By that afternoon the Viet Cong were ready and waiting.

As gunfire began raining down on the soldiers, the heavens opened up, adding to the gloomy mood.

When the battle ended, it was clear D Company had suffered the biggest losses; 18 Australians were killed and 24 were wounded.

All bar one of the dead were from D Company.

But there would have likely been more casualties if it wasn't for the bravery of Phillip 'Doc' Dobson - an Ipswich veteran who died just five weeks before the 50th anniversary of the most well-known battle during the Vietnam War.

Mr Dobson joined the Army on September 24, 1962.

He was posted in Vietnam with D Company and while gun fire pelted the Australian and New Zealand forces Mr Dobson, a medical orderly, raced around the field tended to the wounded.

At his funeral in July fellow veterans spoke of his unwavering bravery in the face the Viet Cong barrage.

"He was going to all the unconscious men, and putting a safety clip between their lip and their tongue, to stop them swallowing their tongue," veteran and platoon commander Geoff Kendall told the mourners.

"He was treating the wounded as rounds were still flying, it was almost certain death to stand up."

Despite his heroic efforts Phillip Dobson, and his fellow veterans, were shunned upon their return to Australia.

As the soldiers were fighting the Battle of Long Tan, protests against the war were mounting at home and in America.

Ipswich RSL's Reg Bond says that controversy lives on today and while the war has been committed to the pages of history, that feeling of being shunned remains.

That's one of the reasons the Vietnam veteran is passionately opposed to any suggestion the date to commemorate the Vietnam War should be changed.

There are about 500 Vietnam veterans living in the Ipswich area.

Mr Bond says even now those veterans are invisible in the community, but that wasn't the sentiment at the Ipswich service yesterday evening where a crowd of about 80 people turned out to show their respect.

"The stigma will diminish, but it will never go away," Mr Bond said.

He said trying to move the day would only increase the emotional impact that stigma had, and still has, on the former soldier's lives.

"This is a commemoration of an even we use as a focal point for the guys who went to Vietnam.

"I am sure other veterans share my feelings; that I would be horrified if they tried to change it."

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