Friday, November 10, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
We will remember them …
On August 18 this year, the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the nation paused to formally recall and salute the service of the men and women in this campaign.
Over eleven years in Vietnam, whether volunteers or conscripted, our service personnel “performed magnificently”. In that time, 523 Australians lost their lives and more than 3000 were wounded or injured to some degree, more than 60 000 Australians served there, and an unknown number were to some degree traumatised by their service in Vietnam. Only about 35,000 now remain and, apart from a very few from earlier conflicts, Vietnam veterans are now the doyens of our veterans’ community, venerable and respected. (Sir Peter Cosgrove “The Sunday Mail” August 13, 2023)
So, on this Remembrance Day, it is fitting to acknowledge those from our district who fought in this conflict and to thank them for their service. Young men from Proserpine who served in Vietnam were Peter Roberts, Ian Lade, Barry Parnell, Jeffrey Korn, Les Stevenson and Kevin Bluck.
On May 29, 1965, Peter Roberts, a 20-year-old private in the 1st Battalion 1RAR which comprised of regular soldiers, was on HMAS “Sydney” as it left for Vietnam. He had been in the army for only 19 months. Upon arrival, 1RAR became part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (American). Peter served in Vietnam from May 27 1965 until June 1 1966 before returning home. After 18 months service in Malaysia as Corporal in 8RAR, he returned to Vietnam as a section commander. When a good mate was killed, Peter was promoted to sergeant which he acknowledges was an added weight to bear. On his second tour of duty, Sergeant Peter Roberts served from November 18 1969 until November 12 1970. Peter was the founding member of the RSL Sub Branch of Airlie Beach and is currently President of Legacy in Proserpine and has worked tirelessly for the organisation for many years.
Private Les Stevenson (1st Australian Reinforcement Unit) enlisted on September 29 1965, choosing not to wait to see if his name would be among those called up. Following enlistment, he completed 3 months training at Kapooka before being posted to the newly formed 7th Battalion RAR based at Puckapunyal. He was deployed on February 5 1967 to the Reinforcement Unit (1ARU) at Nui Dat for special service. On completion of his tour of duty, Les returned to Australia and was discharged on September 28 1967.
A National Service call-up saw friends, Jeff Korn, Ian Lade and Barry Parnell complete basic training at Singleton. Jeff and Ian were transported to Townsville’s 6th Battalion – Ian to Alpha Company and Jeff to Delta Company, the same company that fought the Battle of Long Tan 3 years earlier. Sapper Barry Parnell joined the Royal Australian Engineers in the 1st Field Squadron at a different base. He was the first of the 3 friends to be deployed and served in Vietnam from December 2 1968 to December 10 1969.
In May 1969, Lance Corporal Jeff Korn and Private Ian Lade were shipped to Vietnam on HMAS “Sydney”, a voyage which made the 6th Battalion the first to leave Townsville since WW2. Being that it was also the 13th trip to South Vietnam with troops for HMAS “Sydney”, rumours abounded aboard the “Sydney” that it would sink on that trip. Thankfully it didn’t. Jeff and Ian both served in Vietnam until April 2 1970.
As a soldier in Delta Company 6RAR, Jeff Korn was part of the Long Tan dedication held in 1969 in Vietnam when a cross was erected at the battle site. Upon his return to Australia, he was heavily involved in the RSL and mastermind of the replica of the Long Tan Memorial Cross erected on Bribie Island. The Long Tan Memorial Cross is now the most widely recognised object of Australia’s Vietnam War heritage. On Ian Lade’s return to Proserpine, he held the positions of secretary and treasurer of the RSL Sub Branch for over 30 years and more than 20 years consecutive service as the RSL Club President.
Private Kevin Bluck served in the 3rd Battalion RAR from February 15 1971 until October 13 1971. Maurice Beasley, a Bowenite, was called up at the same time as Jeff, Ian and Barry. He had been working as a sugar chemist at the Proserpine Sugar Mill at that time and travelled with them to Singleton for training. (Temp) Corporal Maurice Beasley was a section commander 8 RAR and served in Vietnam from November 17 1969 to October 1 1970.
We thank them for their service.
Lest we forget.
(Story courtesy Proserpine Historical Museum. Photo of Long Tan Memorial Cross sourced from Bribie Island Vietnam Veterans’ Association Facebook page).