Long Tan – Seeking Recognition

On August 18, 1966, 108 Australian soldiers were ambushed by the Viet Cong in what would become known as the Vietnam War’s Battle of Long Tan. Against all odds, the Aussies won the fight.

Now, the man who led them to victory is fighting to have his troops recognised with the highest honour.

The Battle of Long Tan, in which Aussie troops were outnumbered 20 to one, has gained greater recognition in recent years, but it wasn’t always that way.

The story of that four-hour firefight in a muddy rubber plantation during a torrential downpour will be retold in a new Australian movie, Danger CloseThe Battle of Long Tan.  Directed by Kriv Stenders (best known for Red Dog), it will premiere on the battle’s 53rd anniversary,  August 18.

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BERT’S BLOG – Support for Our Veterans and their Families

OPEN LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, MINISTER VETERANS’ AFFAIRS  AND OPPOSITION SHADOW FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS

Recently, the Government put out a Joint Media Release about Support for Our Veterans and their Families.

Its final paragraphs, describing ‘an extensive record support for veterans’, are decidedly underwhelming. For example, delivering support for 280,000 veterans is nothing more than what is required under existing legislation; and improved processes and claim procedures in DVA are self evidently needed. Any Government that did not do these things would be derelict in its duty.

The statement it made that the Coalition is “delivering [its] $1.4 billion in fairer indexation for military superannuants”, if not deliberately misleading, certainly avoids telling the entire truth about what is happening with military superannuation. Assertions like these conceal the real situation, and it is disingenuous to make it appear to be otherwise.

The Release made no mention of any intention to deliver:

• a plan to restore a proper level of TPI/SR economic loss compensation payments. [It is reprehensible that this particular issue was not dealt with long ago.];

• fair indexation for MSBS superannuants also, [the now infamous ‘Ronaldson second step’ never taken!!];

• fair indexation for under 55 year old DFRDB superannuants, let alone anyone on MSBS;

• proper indexation for preserved funds in Commonwealth hands; or

• restitution for any substandard super indexation, dating at least back to 1990 for MSBS and 1990 – 2014 for DFRDB.

All of these long standing issues have a direct, incontrovertible and deleterious effect on veterans’ cost of living. They all deserve a very high priority, well before any consideration of expenditure on memorials is placed on the agenda.

And yet, neither the Coalition, nor Labor, make any undertaking in their election promises to settle these matter once and for all.

Is this really the ‘Fair Go’ that our veterans, like all Australians, deserve?

Does it really reflect how we ‘honour the service and sacrifice of our service personnel’?

BertHoebee 1

Bert Hoebee
Military Veteran (9 RAR Vietnam)

Joint Media Release – Support for our Veterans and their Families

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 “The Coalition will boost support for veterans and their   families as part of a $63.2 million suite of initiatives to   create Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres across the country,   deliver job opportunities and secure health and housing   services for the future.
 We will invest $30 million in a network of six new   Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres that will bring together the   key services for our veterans and their families.
The new Centres will integrate government and non-government support for Australians who have served in our Defence Forces with local health services community organisations, advocacy and wellbeing support. They will partner with ex-service organisations and state and territory governments across Australia.

Our government has a strong track record delivering services and support to our veterans and their families. We understand the role that ex-service organisations play in supporting veterans after their service has concluded.
In order to support them to deliver those services, we want to help more organisations find more veterans meaningful civilian jobs. That’s why we will also invest $16.2 million to support organisations including Soldier On, Team Rubicon and State Branches of the RSL. Along with other ex-service organisations, these groups will also be able to use the new Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres to deliver their services.

We know how important exercise physiology and physiotherapy are for Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) veterans so we will deliver an extra $17 million to exempt them from the new ‘Treatment Cycle’ requirements that were due to commence on 1 July 2019, allowing TPI veterans to continue to access these important allied health services under existing arrangements.

A re-elected Morrison Government will also make it easier for veterans to access the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme. We will extend the time for eligible veterans to access the program from two to five years after they complete their ADF service. This will allow veterans and their families more time to settle their affairs and find a home once their service has been completed.
We will also extend eligibility to the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to allow any current or former ADF member who has at least one day of service to access home building insurance through the Scheme. That means veterans can access more competitively priced home building insurance, particularly in disaster prone areas, which will lower the cost of living for veterans and their families, particularly in northern Australia.

The Coalition has introduced legislation to create an Australian Veterans’ Covenant, which, in partnership with the ex-service community, will formally recognise the unique nature of military service and acknowledge and honour the service and sacrifice of our service personnel.

We also understand it is important our veterans are appropriately recognised by the community and businesses, even when they’re not wearing their medals and uniforms. That’s why we’ve launched the Australian Veterans’ Card and Lapel Pin, so veterans can be appropriately recognised, including by businesses who want to offer special discounts and offers to veterans.

The Coalition’s plan to put our veterans and their families first builds on an extensive record of support for veterans:
 – The record $11 billion we deliver to support 280,000 veterans and their families each year
 – Extending access to the DVA Gold Card for civilian medical teams in the Vietnam War
 – $500 million we’ve committed to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to better meet the needs of veterans and their families
 – $100 million we invested in the Sir John Monash Centre in France
 – $498 million committed over the next nine years to redevelop the Australian War Memorial and allow the Memorial to display more of their collection and proudly tell the stories from recent years in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.
 – Delivering our $1.4 billion in fairer indexation for military superannuants.
 – Supporting Kookaburra Kids to help the children of veterans affected by mental illness.
 – Cutting waiting times for claims through the Department and streamlining the process through the new MyService system

Only the Coalition can be trusted to deliver for veterans and their families.”

Wednesday 24 April 2019

New funding provided for establishment of Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres

The Coalition government has promised to invest $30 million into the creation of Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres that it says will bring together the key services for veterans and their families.

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The establishment of the centres is part of a $63.2 million series of initiatives that will help deliver job opportunities for veterans across the country, as well as securing health and housing services.

The new centres will integrate government and non-government support for Australians who have serviced in the Defence Force, partnering with ex-service organisations and state and territory governments.

It comes alongside a host of other promises offered by the Coalition, including:

$16.2 million investment to support organisations including Soldier On, Team Rubicon and state branches of the RSL;

$17 million investment to exempt totally and permanently incapacitated (TPI) veterans from the new ‘treatment cycle’ requirements that were due to commence in July;

Extend the time offered for eligible veterans to access the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme from two to five years after completing ADF service; and

Extend eligibility to the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to allow current or former ADF members to access home building insurance

“Our government has a strong track record delivering services and support to our veterans and their families. We understand the role that ex-service organisations play in supporting veterans after their service has concluded,” a joint release from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said.

ADSO Media Release – ADSO Policy Objectives 2019-2022

The Alliance of Defence Service Organisation (ADSO) welcomes the opportunity to announce its core Policy Objectives as a timely reminder to those seeking election to the 46th Parliament of Australia.

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A significant portion of the veterans’ community, speaking largely with a single voice, continues to seek redress of a series of key issues, many of which have been outstanding for too long.
Some issues have been the subject of unfulfilled promises, not the least of which includes providing Australia’s most disabled Veterans and their families with an adequate standard of living.

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In commenting on the Objectives and encouraging all sides of politics to find legislative ways to redress each issue in turn, ADSO’s National Spokesman, Kel Ryan, wished to acknowledge that the Government, with the Labor Opposition’s support, had taken action on a long-held key Objective, namely to legislate an Australian Military (Veterans) Covenant that gives formal recognition to the Unique Nature of Military Service. The Covenant will be an early item of business for Senators in the next parliament to debate and give effect to it in law.

ADSO also wished to acknowledge the recent veterans’ policy announcements made by both the Government and the Opposition. The bi-partisan approach to an independent inquiry into the administration of the DFRDB commutation arrangements is particularly welcomed. As the Commonwealth Ombudsman will chair the inquiry, we recommend that as many of the issues as possible plaguing the DFRDB scheme from its outset be addressed by the Ombudsman, irrespective of the restrictive Terms of Reference. Those affected by the scheme have long-held the view that, while fair indexation was an abiding issue that must be fixed, there were equally other aspects of the scheme that should be remedied. The illogical and inappropriate use of out-of-date 1962-vintage life tables is but one.

Glaringly omitted from the policy statements by both the Government and the Opposition is recognition of the immensity of the advocacy and welfare work, and the vital role the wider ex-service community plays in support of veterans and their families. That includes the 18-member strong ADSO entity that speaks with one voice, Without exception, they are all not only volunteer-based but lack completely any financial help beyond the meagre amounts available to each Association separately under the DVA Grant-in Aid scheme. And yet ADSO with its vast veterans membership base, missed completely any mention in policy announcements that it too would be supported along with other service providers.
ADSO calls on both sides of politics to acknowledge the contribution of ADSO by funding it for the work it performs on behalf of Government and DVA, and the broad Australian veterans community.

29th April 2019

A path to recovery on missing soldiers

Relatives of the Australian servicemen who went missing in action in the Korean War almost 70 years ago are hopeful the mystery of what happened to them could soon be solved.

Authorities in the United States are testing human remains exhumed from a military cemetery in Hawaii, where they were buried without identification after being transferred from North and South Korea in the 1950s and ’60s.

It is the first sign of progress for Australian families on the identifications since Australia and the US signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Korean War remains identification in August 2018.

While experts believe the remains likely belong largely to American servicemen, the families of the 43 Australian servicemen still unaccounted for decades after fighting ended on the Korean peninsula hope the tests will identify their relatives among the buried.

These families have long been calling for the exhumations, and many have provided DNA samples for the tests.

“[The exhumations] are a great source of hope,” says Sydney lawyer Julie Dorrington whose uncle, Royal Australian Air Force pilot Donald Campbell Ellis, was among the first Australian servicemen reported missing in North Korea in December 1950, six months after the start of the Korean War.

Pilot Officer Ellis was just 23 years old when his Mustang plane was shot down east of the North Korean capital Pyongyang. He is not presumed to have survived, and like the other Australians officially recorded as missing in action during the Korean War, his remains have never been found.

“We believe there is a strong chance that some of those who are buried in Hawaii are Australian because, according to Australian Defence Force records, missing Australian servicemen were in some of the areas where the unidentified remains were originally found,” says Dorrington.

The US Defence Department agency that accounts for missing military personnel, known as DPAA, plans to exhume more than 650 sets of remains from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. The work, paid for by the US government, will happen in stages and is expected to take about six years to complete.

Individual remains have been removed from the cemetery before, but this is the first mass exhumation of so-called “unknowns” at the site atop the extinct volcanic Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu.“WE GET A LOT OF INFORMATION THROUGH DENTAL RESTORATION, BIOLOGICAL PROFILES – HEIGHT, AGE, ANCESTRY – OFTEN WE CAN GET INFORMATION ABOUT CAUSE OF DEATH.”

Exhumed remains are being sent to the DPAA’s Central Identification Laboratory, also in Honolulu, for testing. The laboratory’s director, Dr John Byrd, says many of the remains are well preserved, which bodes well for DNA identification.

Byrd says chemicals used to preserve the bodies on the Korean peninsula decades ago mean scientists now require sophisticated forensic processes to extract DNA data for identification – methods unavailable at the time of burial.

Confirming the identity of missing service personnel conclusively, and the circumstances in which they died, often requires more investigation beyond simply testing DNA.

“We get a lot of information through dental restoration, biological profiles – height, age, ancestry – often we can get information about cause of death such as gunshot wounds or blast trauma,” says Byrd. “Everything is systematically checked against reference samples from Australian families.”

Since October 2018, more than 30 sets of remains have been exhumed from the memorial cemetery. However, Byrd is at pains to temper the hopes of Australian families who believe their loved ones are buried in Hawaii.

“We don’t have any compelling reason to believe any of them are Australian at this point,” he says. “We won’t be surprised to occasionally find South Korean soldiers’ remains among those we are exhuming … Had there been information that suggested they were Australian back in the 1950s they would never have been buried in that cemetery.

“Australians and other allies are possible to find but you can’t point to any grave from the cemetery and say there’s good reason to believe they’re Aussie.”

Byrd says it may be possible to find Australian remains “co-mingled” with other unidentified remains in storage at the DPAA facility, which are already being compared with Australian relatives’ DNA samples on file.

The exhumations in Hawaii stand in contrast to the apparent lack of progress in Australia’s effort to investigate its Korean War missing inside North Korea.

Last year’s Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un saw North Korea agree to send thousands of remains to the US. For Australia’s part, former foreign minister Julie Bishop offered “expert and forensic assistance” to North Korea after “multiple representations” about investigating Australia’s wartime missing. Almost a year later, the Australian government is yet to make any public confirmation of a breakthrough.

“It’s taken so long to get to where we are today,” says Ian Saunders, OAM, who has spent years advocating Australia focus its search on the suspected Korean War remains located in the US.

He hopes to find his father, Private John Philip Saunders, who disappeared on the Korean peninsula in January 1953, a day before his 26th birthday, as well as other Australians.

The belief that Australian remains could be found at the Hawaiian cemetery, Saunders says, is based on information from the Australian Korean War diaries in Canberra and what he describes as “documented cogent and circumstantial evidence” in the Australian and US military materials he has researched for the past two decades.

Saunders’ findings have helped determine the last known locations of Australia’s Korean War missing and are being used in official Australian investigations.

In 2015, Saunders received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his work lobbying the federal government to boost efforts to locate missing Korean War servicemen, and for his contact with relevant US and South Korean government agencies to investigate their recovery processes.

Saunders questions whether DPAA scientists are using the supplied Australian DNA samples in all identifications.

“We are waiting on confirmation, proof – not a handwritten letter by these people – a spreadsheet that confirms the Australian DNA samples that exist in the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii have been compared,” he insists.

The Australian Defence Department won’t say whether it expects remains of missing Australian servicemen to be found during the exhumations.

“Some family members have speculated it is possible that missing Australian soldiers may have been misclassified as US unknown casualties and consequently buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific,” a department statement said.

“Defence, in collaboration with the DPAA, have explored every possible route to support or dispel this speculation [including] dental, anthropological, historical and DNA analysis. At this time, no Australian soldier remains have been identified among those analysed by the US.”

The Korean War Missing in Action Working Group – Julie Dorrington and Ian Saunders are both members – connects Defence representatives with veterans’ organisations, relatives of the missing and the Australian Army’s Unrecovered War Casualties unit, which oversees the investigation and recovery of missing Australian service personnel.

The working group initiated and helped draft the MOU between Australia and the US on Korean War remains recovery and identification, which took about six years to complete. Although not legally binding, it encourages more information sharing and formalises existing co-operation.

The DPAA’s Byrd confirms that as a result of the agreement Australian defence authorities can expect to receive previously withheld information about the Hawaii laboratory’s identification work.

“We are very reluctant, if not prohibited, from sharing inside data and information and test results with just anybody,” he says. “The MOU gives us a basis for sharing information – it gives us reason to give authorisation to send information to counterparts in Australia if, for example, we find some compelling test results.

“It tells both sides what is fair use of that information because some of it can be sensitive.”

Saunders suggests the test of the memorandum of understanding’s success will be in the positive identifications of Australian missing servicemen that it facilitates – as happened, he argues, for the US after it signed a similar agreement with South Korea.

Meanwhile, the Australian and US defence departments have agreed to send some of the relatives of Australia’s Korean War missing to visit the DPAA laboratory in Hawaii later this year for a firsthand look at the work being done to identify exhumed remains from the Korean peninsula.

Julie Dorrington hopes to be among them. “There is now a much higher chance of certainty for the missing Australians’ families that we will get the information one way or another. Even if it is a negative result – it is still important to know.”

This article by Kristina Kukolja was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 27, 2019 as “A path to recovery”. Subscribe here.

Opinion – When Australia Punched Above its Weight


ONE hundred years ago in Paris, the victorious allies were negotiating a treaty to formalise the armistice declared on November 11, 1918. The Little Digger, PM Billy Hughes defended our diggers’ sacrifice.


PM Billy Hughes with Aussie Diggers

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ANZAC DAY 2019

Thank you Australia for keeping the spirit of Anzac alive

See the video presentation that will be shown on the big screen at the MCG  before the Anzac day clash between Essendon and Collingwood.

Vale – Brave Warrior – Ron Perkins 3RAR, Korea, AATTV and Vietnam

It is easy to write of an old soldier such as Ron Perkins who demonstrated strong qualities of life including leadership and love of country. Ron left the army after a very distinguished career including operational service in both Korea and Vietnam.

Even in retirement, supported and encouraged by his ever wonderful and devoted wife, June, he was very much involved in pursuing the interests of fellow veterans. Always to the fore was welfare, promoting pride and camaraderie.  No easy task, given that the aging veterans were scattered over vast distances.

As a soldier of the Third Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, his baptism of fire was in the early days of the Korean War. The many bloody encounters included the historic Battle of Kapyong where his battalion, despite incredible odds, defied the might of an advancing communist army. For this outstanding and seemingly impossible delaying action, the battalion was awarded the most prestigious United States Presidential Unit Citation.

Years later, he was among those few, selected for service in Vietnam with a recently formed unit, the Australian Army Training Team. (AATTV)  Given that this unit received many awards during operations, the term ‘Training’ became very much a misnomer. AATTV was awarded two foreign unit citations, thus Ron became one of a very few at that time to be wearing three foreign unit citations along with his impressive array of other military awards.

Join me as I picture him and his mates, mostly young, and perhaps distant from the front line, camped on reverse slopes, and around a small campfire. There would be laughing, joking and often singing of their favourite songs which included “The wild colonial boy” and another where in loud voice, they claimed they were all illegitimate and preferred vice and sin to fighting for their country. Such was their wry humour.

Then in the morning, these warriors from the land down under, went forward, exposed to winter’s freezing icy winds and snow or summers hot and relentless heat. Always they were heavily laden with weapons, equipment and a blackened tea billy used by the sub unit, dangling from someone’s haversack. Many of them were wearing American boots, combat smocks and balaclavas they had “borrowed” from their American allies. They tramped along unnamed narrow dirt roads toward the fog of war and the unknowns of their tomorrow; always with a sense of purpose and trust in each other as well as confidence in their leaders. Always evident from the commanding officer to the most junior soldier was the immense pride in their unit. They knew who they were and what they were about to do.  

Ron was part of all of this and clearly showed his love of country and a firm belief in our precious way of life.  His pride and affection for his old units never faltered throughout his life.  Years ago, I became aware that when the time came, he would want to bid farewell to each and all of his surviving old comrades on Planet Earth who would still be answering “Present” at roll call and thus this note. 

Have no doubt that he is now part of the growing ghost column which follows behind today’s youngsters who serve in the battalion, who march proudly with their unit’s Colours held high. As he passes the cheering crowds, the Spirit of one of Australia’s best, Ron Perkins, marching with old comrades one more, and will salute his beloved wife and family watching from afar.

Ron’s military history is recorded in this interview in 2003 

                   Vale Brave Warrior

Go seek glory with your deeds from a distant past 
Rest with old comrades at long, long last 
Feel the glowing, peaceful warmth of the campfire 
Singing, laughing and then restful sleep; gone forever any ire 
 

Those fields of war now washed clean of blood, sweat and tears
Yet still the faint cry ‘‘Duty First’’ can be heard each and every year While on Planet Earth, a new generation firmly holds the sacred flame
Brave deeds stitched on sacred cloth, proudly carried high, again and again  

George Mansford April 2019

Poem – Of God and Soldiers

Many would say that this poem is a true reflection of how God and Soldiers are valued today:


Yet this poem was written nearly 400 years ago by Francis Quarles in his Divine Fancies (1632) ‘Of Common Devotion’