You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Veterans mark iconic Long Tan Battle

AAP logoAAP 17/08/2016

The most vivid memories Col Flatters has of the Battle of Long Tan are the torrential rain and firing frantically.

The retired Major, a gunner in 1966, recalled his role in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Vietnam War as he joined hundreds of other veterans at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Thursday to commemorate the battle's 50th anniversary.

As the 105 soldiers of Delta Company, together with three New Zealanders, came under attack from a force of some 2000 North Vietnamese and local Viet Cong soldiers in a rubber plantation five kilometres away, Flatters and his artillery colleagues at Nui Dat were told to just fire away.

"We had to be very precise, because we knew that we were firing so close to our own people," he told AAP, moved to tears.

The next morning the whole place was a mess of spent cartridges

"Fortunately for me I got sent out on patrol so I didn't have to clean it up," the Maroubra RSL sub-branch president said with a laugh.

As the scattered Australian positions at Long Tan were attacked, enemy ranks were shredded by almost 3500 rounds of artillery fired with astonishing accuracy.

Grovelling in the red mud as enemy fire cracked low over their heads, the Australian infantrymen fired more than 10,000 rounds from their rifles and machine guns.

Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, himself a Vietnam veteran, told the stand-to service the rubber plantation was a quiet shady place with a cathedral-like quality.

"We recollect a famous battle and a long-ago war," he said.

The battle became legendary, emblematic of a long and bloody conflict. It was also a simple and complex battle.

"The simplicity is that it quickly became a battle for survival," Sir Peter said.

"It was complex in that the indefatigable efforts of others particularly the artillery, kept those men from being over-run."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten were among other dignitaries in attendance.

Sir Peter laid a wreath along with Graham Smith, representing Long Tan veterans, and Cecil Wales, brother of Private Maxwell Wales, representing families of those killed in action.

Australia lost 521 troops in Vietnam including 18 at Long Tan, and their names and ages of death were read out in a honour roll call earlier on Thursday morning.

War memorial director Brendan Nelson said it was important to look beyond the broad brush strokes and headlines of history to remember the individual sacrifices.

"The soul of the nation is here," he said.

Veteran Paddy Martin, a retired army captain, described his memories of Vietnam as "one per cent terror and the rest of it good fun".

Mr Turnbull said the nation remembered with heavy hearts the Australians killed in Vietnam.

" They displayed the courage and the selflessness we have come to associate with the Anzac legend," he told a later morning service.

The prime minister said the bravery and the determination showed throughout Australia's service in the Vietnam War is etched into our national story.

"We acknowledge today the many service men and women who were wounded often in ways we have been too slow to recognise and help,"

"Your sacrifice has continued long after your service."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon