Australia recognizes 10 soldiers' courage in Vietnam War

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A retired Australian army officer on Wednesday won a 50-year struggle to gain official recognition for the bravery of 10 soldiers who fought under his command during Australia's most costly battle of the Vietnam War.

Harry Smith, 83, was presented at Parliament House with a recommendation by a review tribunal for nine soldiers to be decorated for the first time and a 10th soldier to have his medal upgraded for courage shown during the Battle of Long Tan in a Vietnamese rubber plantation on Aug. 18, 1966.

Smith, a retired lieutenant colonel, led a company of 105 Australian soldiers plus three New Zealanders supported by artillery that won a rain-drenched, three-hour battle against more than 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, the Australian government said. Eighteen Australians were killed and 24 wounded, while the Vietnamese were estimated to have lost hundreds of troops.

Within hours of the battle ending, Smith said he recommended to his commanding officer that 20 soldiers under his command be decorated.

Initially, only eight battle veterans were honored, including Smith. He was awarded the Star of Gallantry, the highest honor after the Victoria Cross.

He has since campaigned relentlessly to have others recognized. Wednesday's verdict of the Defense Honors and Awards Appeal Tribunal — an independent court established five years ago to investigate such cases — brings the number to 16, Smith said. The government accepted the recommendation.

Smith said he was happy with the decision despite the tribunal dismissing his application for another soldier to be awarded his first decoration and another two decorated soldiers to have their honors upgraded.

"Justice has been done," Smith said. "I learnt from my years in the army that you have to keep on fighting and you eventually win."

Three of the 10 veterans to receive new honors have died since the war.

Australia deployed more than 60,000 military personnel to Vietnam between 1962 and 1973, of whom 521 were killed. The Battle of Long Tan anniversary next week has become Australia's official Vietnam Veterans Day.

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