It was midafternoon on the 18th of August 1966 when a group of soldiers were patrolling at a rubber tree plantation just outside the Village of Long Tan, about 12kms east of Ba Ria City in Southern Vietnam. It was in an area the size of 2 football fields where Australian soldiers came face to face with an unknown number of Vietnamese soldiers and a battle ensued.
As the battle ignited, gunfire decimated trees and anything that moved in the field. The Australians called in heavy cannon support from the Nui Dat base some 5kms to the north and for the next few hours mayhem spilled out over this, otherwise, peaceful farming area.
As regular as it is in Vietnam, the typical monsoonal rain hit, and the thick red dirt turned to sticky mud and the trenches in the ground filled with orange red water. Soldiers lay dead and wounded in the mud as the mist of gunpowder and rain settled over the field. Hell on earth had appeared as the sun set over this battle ground.
The battle eventually died down and what was left was a field of death. Vietnamese and Australian men lay dead and wounded. And, due to the bad weather and poor visibility, most of the injured would spend the entire night laying in the mud clinging to life, some too scared to move for fear of being gunned down by the enemy.
The next morning saw a confronting salvage operation begin. Words will never accurately describe the carnage and devastation the rubber tree plantation 3 kilometers from the village on Long Tan. After the smoke, rain and shock settled. 18 Australians and an estimated 275 Vietnamese lost their lives in the horrendous moment in history. The moment offered no winners, no victory, but a memory that would become the icon of a generation and the symbol of a War that should never have been.
The 18th of August every year is raising with importance. It is not idolizing war, but remembering history and this takes us all a step closer to making sure it never happens again.