It was made of reinforced concrete and was flown in by helicopter before being set in to the red dirt at the site of Australia’s most costly engagement in the Vietnam War. But now the Long Tan Cross has a new home on the white walls of the Australian War Memorial.
Erected almost 50 years ago by members of 6RAR in memory of those who died during the battle of Long Tan, the cross has been gifted to Australia by the Vietnamese government and is now on display in the Captain Reg Saunders Gallery at the Memorial.
For retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith SG MC, who was the commander of D Company, 6RAR, which fought in the battle on that day on 18 August 1966, the news couldn’t have been more welcome.
“I’ve always said that’s where I think it should be … It was wonderful when it was there in 2012 [on loan]. Now it’s here permanently, that’s absolutely outstanding,” Smith said.
“[Last year], I knew I’d be going to Long Tan in the August and I said at the time I’d move heaven and earth if I could to get the cross sent out to Australia on a permanent basis and … that’s now happened.”
Over the years the Long Tan Cross came to symbolise Australia’s decade-long involvement in the Vietnam War and represent those who died or were wounded in the conflict. For those who fought in the rubber plantation at Long Tan more than 50 years ago, the news that the cross has returned to Australia is particularly special.
“Oh yes, it really is,” Smith said. “It symbolises the battle [and] it symbolises the courage and the determination of the soldiers of Delta Company that fought the enemy, supported at the end, of course, by the APCs [armoured personnel carriers] and Alpha Company.
“Long Tan was probably the most significant battle we had in Vietnam. There are other battles … that went for longer with similar casualties, but Long Tan was such a short, sharp, savage battle, and it stopped the Vietnamese regiment from attacking the taskforce base, and our company was able to hold that regiment off, of course, supported by wonderful artillery fire.”