BYRON BOY: President of the Byron Bay RSL Sub Branch, Robert Asquith, as a troop carrier driver in Vietnam. Look closely on the radio antenna and you can see the Byron Bay flag he flew the whole time he was in Vietnam. Photo courtesy Rob Asquith
BYRON BOY: President of the Byron Bay RSL Sub Branch, Robert Asquith, as a troop carrier driver in Vietnam. Look closely on the radio antenna and you can see the Byron Bay flag he flew the whole time he was in Vietnam. Photo courtesy Rob Asquith Contributed

Veteran calls for understanding

PRESIDENT of Byron Bay RSL sub-branch and Vietnam veteran, Robert Asquith has appealed for understanding on behalf of Australians in the wake of moves by the Vietnamese government to scale down commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan.

Less than 24 hours before the anniversary the Vietnamese government cancelled the commemoration before relenting to allow small groups of less than 100 at a time to visit the Long Tan cross that now stands in the middle of a corn field on a working farm in Phuoc Tuy Province in South Vietnam.

The Vietnamese also banned the wearing of medals and uniforms or the laying of more than one wreath. Carrying banners or making speeches was also prohibited. A concert by Little Pattie (Amphlett), who was to perform for Australian troops before the battle erupted in 1966, was also cancelled.

Eighteen Australians were killed and 24 wounded at the battle and around 3,500 veterans and family members were booked to go to today's commemoration.

The Vietnamese knew the conflict as 'The American War" and 245 of their soldiers died at the battle.

Aware of local Vietnamese sensitivities around the battle Mr Asquith, who fought in the 1969 battle of Binh Ba had cautioned one of his local RSL members who travelled to Vietnam for the anniversary.

"When he told me that he had paid for a tour over there I warned that he may do his money because of Vietnamese sensitivity around the war and the battle," he said

"Many Australian went over believing that they could have traditional remembrance service with medals and berets and wreath laying.

"It's was just a matter of us going a bit over the top with our expectations of what the day would be.

"We have to remember that despite our sadness around our losses we were invading their country after all."