United States Distinguished Service Cross : Warrant Officer Class 2 K Payne, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

Unit Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
Place Asia: Vietnam, Kontum Province
Accession Number REL48055.018
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Vietnam
Maker Unknown
Place made United States of America
Date made c 1969
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975

United States Distinguished Service Cross. Engraved reverse with recipient's details.

History / Summary

Keith Payne was born at Ingham, Queensland, on 30 August 1933. He joined the Australian Regular Army in 1951 and was posted to Korea the following year. In the next decade he served in Malaya and Papua New Guinea, and was appointed to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in February 1969.

In May of that year in Kontum Province, Payne’s company came under heavy attack. As the local troops fell back, Payne, wounded and under constant fire, valiantly fought to hold off the enemy. Having rallied his own men, he then set about bringing in the wounded, including an American advisor. For his actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United States Distinguished Service Cross, the United States Silver Star and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross reads:

'The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Chief Warrant Officer (WO-2) Keith Payne, Australian Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with the Australian Army Training Team. While personally leading the 212th Company, 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion, in Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 24 May 1969, his company was attacked by an overwhelming force of the North Vietnamese Army. The attack isolated the two lead companies. They then came under heavy rocket and mortar fire and an infantry ground assault from three directions. This intensive attack caused the strike force to begin withdrawing. Warrant Officer Payne, exposing himself to enemy fire, rallied the troops by firing his personal weapon and running from position to position, collecting and hurling grenades at the attacking enemy. He was wounded in his hands and arms. Despite his outstanding efforts, the indigenous soldiers retreated and the battalion commander and staff retreated with them. Warrant Officer Payne covered this retreat by firing his weapons and throwing grenades. Under heavy fire he ran across exposed terrain to stop the disorderly withdrawal - and as night fell - organized his company into defensive perimeter. He then proceeded into enemy held territory collecting some forty wounded and lost soldiers. Upon returning to the defensive perimeter, he found that his battalion had left. Undeterred he continued collecting stragglers and led them and four American soldiers to a final rendezvous where he supervised the evacuation of all wounded personnel. He refused to be evacuated until all other wounded had departed the area. Through his sustained and courageous soldiery performance, he saved the lives of his American comrades in arms and many Vietnamese soldiers, bringing great credit to the Australian and United States Armies.'

After his retirement Payne settled in Queensland and in 2006 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia 'for service to the community, particularly through support for youth programs and veterans groups.' In June 2015 he was further recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of Australia for 'significant service to veterans and their families as an ambassador, patron and as an advocate for veterans' health and welfare.'

Payne's US Distinguished Service Cross is preceded by the Victoria Cross, the Medal of the Order of Australia, the Australian Active Service Medal, service medals for Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee medals, the Centenary Medal and Long Service Medals and is accompanied by the United States Silver Star, the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star, Malaysian and South Vietnamese service medals and campaign medals for private foreign military service.