Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley, VC, and Ron “Butch” Swanton recommended for Medal for Gallantry.
Australia’s Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal released a comprehensive report on Tuesday, recommending the posthumous honouring of Warrant Officer Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley and Warrant Officer Ron “Butch” Swanton for their overlooked acts of gallantry during the Vietnam War. The tribunal advocated for both soldiers to be awarded the Medal for Gallantry.
Swanton’s commendation was based on his courageous attempt to rescue a wounded Vietnamese soldier amidst enemy fire. Despite sustaining mortal wounds himself, Swanton displayed extraordinary bravery.
Initially, a military official dismissed the idea of honouring Swanton, citing that his actions were expected of all service personnel in preserving the life of a comrade. However, the tribunal’s findings supported the recognition of Swanton’s valour.
Wheatley, who was already posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and the United States Silver Star, would further solidify his place in Australian military history if the recommendation is accepted. His previous accolades include being appointed a Knight of the National Order by the former Republic of Vietnam and receiving the Military Merit Medal and Cross of Gallantry with Palm.
Both Wheatley and Swanton tragically perished together in Vietnam on November 13, 1965, near a paddy field. Wheatley’s refusal to abandon Swanton, despite knowing their impending demise, led to his Victoria Cross recognition.
Chris Hartley, a close friend of the Wheatley family, initiated a campaign to acknowledge Wheatley’s bravery. This effort culminated in the retrieval of Wheatley’s long-delayed US Silver Star and prompted further investigation into other denied commendations.
Among the evidence presented was Wheatley’s act of rescuing a terrified young girl amidst heavy gunfire in May 1965. Despite recommendations for his gallantry going unheeded, Wheatley continued to display remarkable courage throughout his service in Vietnam.
The tribunal’s decision to recommend the Medal for Gallantry was influenced by Wheatley’s exemplary actions and the injustice of previous denials. Wheatley’s son, George, expressed gratitude for the tribunal’s thorough review and highlighted his father’s unwavering dedication to his comrades’ safety.
Despite initial reluctance from defence, military, and political figures to honour Wheatley, Queen Elizabeth II intervened to ensure the Victoria Cross citation accurately reflected his exceptional bravery.
Wheatley’s widow, Edna, faced numerous challenges following his death, including disputes over repatriation and financial struggles. However, public support and media attention eventually led to the return of Wheatley’s remains and the preservation of his medals.
Kerry Stokes, a prominent figure, intervened to prevent the sale of Wheatley’s medals and ensured their placement at the Australian War Memorial.
George Wheatley, now 69, expressed pride in his father’s legacy and appreciation for the government’s support of the tribunal’s findings. The government, represented by Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh, pledged to consider the tribunal’s recommendation.
Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley, VC, and Ronald James “Butch” Swanton are interred at respective locations, with Wheatley at Pinegrove Memorial Park and Swanton at Mount Thompson Memorial Gardens.
The complete findings of the tribunal are available on the Defence Honours Tribunal website.