A son and a Vietnam veteran help recover bodies of fallen Vietnamese soldiers

In April this year, after 15 years of search efforts, and almost on the 56th anniversary of the Battle of Balmoral, a team including an Australian veteran and the son of another have helped Vietnamese authorities to identify the resting place of a large number of fallen Vietnamese soldiers in Bình Dương province.

The story begins in May 1968 when a series of battles was fought between the 1st Australian Task Force and People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) forces.

Members of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) had established a defensive fire support base named Balmoral and fought against (principally) the PAVN 7th Division. Engagements occurred on 26 and 28 May.

Following the second assault on 28 May, 3RAR counted 42 PAVN dead on the battlefield, mostly in front of Delta Company. After the engagement ended, members of 3RAR buried 20 deceased PAVN members in a single bomb crater that was covered over during the subsequent occupation of the base – its location eventually lost.

Since then, over many years 3RAR veterans have sought to properly recognise the service of those fallen Vietnamese soldiers and to recover the bodies for their families.

Beginning in 2009, 3RAR veteran Brian Cleaver along with others provided information to local authorities who undertook numerous searches with limited success until 2019.

In 2020 a team that included 3RAR veteran John Bryant,  Luke Johnston (son of 3RAR veteran David Johnston) and Glenn Hines, with support from Ms Trần Thị Phương Như, identified the correct burial location.

Information used to determine the location included battlefield photographs and accurate recollections of John Bryant, a detailed on-ground survey by Luke Johnston and desktop research assistance by Glenn Hines.

The Defence Section of the Australian Embassy in Hanoi facilitated contact between this team, the Steering Committee 515 and the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defence advocating for a new search effort.

Authorities from Bình Dương province began the new search on 13 March this year, and on 1 April they recovered the first remains of one of the fallen. Since then, some 20 sets of human remains have been found and the search is ongoing.

The Embassy’s Facebook page stated that the long-term effort by the 3RAR veterans and their families is testament to the respect they held for the fallen Vietnamese soldiers and that their determination to find the remains brings great credit to the team.

‘The search itself has been conducted in extremely difficult conditions, and the on-ground search team provided by the Vietnam People’s Army have been thoroughly professional in their duties, undertaking the task with diligence and respect,’ the Facebook read.

In his father’s footsteps

As a boy growing up, Luke Johnson was puzzled by the impact the war had on his dad, but as he got older, he learned that it was related to his father’s service in Vietnam.

In his 20s, to understand his father’s experience, he began a quest to retrace his dad’s time in Vietnam, using service and battle records, and his dad’s personal descriptions. Until his father David passed away in 2016, he would recount in detail his Vietnam journeys and impressions, which did a lot to help his father come to terms with and resolve his posttraumatic stress syndrome.

‘He lived vicariously through my travels,’ said Luke. ‘I would contact him daily when I was here [in Vietnam] and would come back with photos and all the places he’d lived, patrolled and fought, and he could see it, see the change in the landscape and see the warmth of the people I was meeting with. It meant a great deal to him.

‘While Dad never got to see the results of this recovery effort, I can tell you, based on his reaction to my previous efforts and time out here, he would have been emotional, he would have been happy, overjoyed, and sad, and that’s the response that I had as well.

‘It’s been an incredibly well-received result for incredibly grateful Vietnamese people.’



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  • Ken.T. June 3, 2024   Reply →

    One more Large Step towards the Healing of that war.

  • Ken.T. June 3, 2024   Reply →

    This is good news for those who seek the remains of their Loved ones the way we also did, and should do.

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