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Long Tan 50th: Soldier’s sister remembers his death and legacy

Remembering Douglas: Frankie O’Leary sitting on the steps at the altar with wreaths after the memorial Mass at St Fabian’s Church, Yeerongpilly.

Remembering Douglas: Frankie O’Leary sitting on the steps at the altar with wreaths after the memorial Mass at St Fabian’s Church, Yeerongpilly.

EVERY year Brisbane woman Frankie O’Leary carries a flag of honour for her brother in the Anzac Day parade.

The full-sized Australian flag was presented to her family with the name of her brother Private Douglas J. Salveron, 6 RAR, embossed on it, recognising his role in the Battle of Long Tan 50 years ago, on August 18.

Douglas Salveron was 20 when he was conscripted into the army, and 21 when he died in jungle battle in Vietnam.

“He was a forward scout. That means you’re the first person going forward,” Ms O’Leary, who was a year older than her brother, said. “He was killed early in the battle. 

“They found the boys all lying in a line on a little raised mound with their rifles still in their hands.”

Ms O’Leary said that when soldiers came to recover the bodies, there was a gunshot because one of the boys still holding his rifle had his finger firmly on the trigger.

“It was terribly sad,” Ms O’Leary, who received the news by telegram while living in Townsville, said.

“I was pregnant at the time. And I thought I don’t want to have a son because he will be called up to go to war.

“It was a time when there were conscientious objectors, but we were told if you were called up, you went. The boys basically did what they were told.”

Last goodbye: Private Douglas Salveron’s family farewelling him with the first intake of conscripts. The bus in the background took the conscripts to their training destinations.

Many years later, some of the bitterness and pain of the Vietnam War has been erased.

Eight years ago Ms O’Leary visited Vietnam and the site where the Battle of Long Tan took place. 

She recalled there was a tropical downpour – the same conditions as on the day of battle on August 18, 1966, when 108 Anzacs faced a Viet Cong force estimated at between 1500 and 2500.

Late that morning, D Company, which included Private Salvaron, left the Australian task force base at Nui Dat late and by 3.15pm they entered the Long Tan rubber plantation. 

Less than an hour later the Viet Cong attacked in force, putting the Australians under mortar, machine gun and small arms fire. 

Only the quick response of a New Zealand artillery battery to desperate calls for support saved D Company from annihilation.

Almost as soon as the battle began torrential rain added to the gloom in the rubber plantation. 

The Australians, surrounded, short of ammunition and fighting an enemy whose strength they could only guess at, called for helicopters to drop ammunition to them. 

Braving the terrible weather and heavy enemy fire, two RAAF helicopters hovered above the plantation and dropped ammunition and blankets for the wounded.
The survivors of D Company along with accurate artillery fire from New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery as well as Australian and American battery units inflicted heavy losses on the Viet Cong. 

Australian reinforcements were sent in to battle.

B Company was on the way and A Company, loaded into armoured personnel carriers, fought its way in to D Company just before 7pm as daylight was fading. 

The enemy was forced to retreat into the plantation suffering terrible casualties. Only when the Australians returned to the scene of battle the following morning did they realise the extent of the defeat they had inflicted on the enemy. 

The Australians counted 245 enemy dead still in the plantation and surrounding jungle with evidence that others had already been removed from the battlefield. Captured documents and information from prisoners suggested that D Company had faced about 2500 Viet Cong. 

Eighteen Australians were killed in the Battle of Long Tan and 24 wounded, all but one of the dead were from D Company.

Last weekend, 50 years after the Battle of Long Tan, Ms O’Leary has joined other families across Australia remembering the bravery and sacrifice.

She attended a memorial Mass at St Fabian’s Church, Yeerongpilly, carrying one of 18 candles in memory of her brother Douglas and his comrades. 

She was also due to attend commemorations at the National War Memorial in Canberra and at Brisbane’s Enoggera Barracks.

Ms O’Leary said she appreciated efforts to gain greater official recognition for the bravery of the Australians who fought at Long Tan.

Long Tan casualty: Private Douglas Salveron.

Long Tan casualty: Private Douglas Salveron.

By Mark Bowling

 

Catholic Church Insurance

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