DARREN CHESTER: Well it’s terrific to be here this morning with the Chief of Army for the Commemorations of the 50th Anniversary of the Battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. And in particular today we commemorate the battles which saw some of the heaviest fighting in the Vietnam War. Tragically twenty-six Australians lost their lives in those series of battles and up to 100 were wounded.
But importantly, also today, it is my great pleasure to announce that the Governor-General has approved the awarding of the Unit Citation for Gallantry to the First Australian Taskforce (Forward) group and all those associated units who participated in that battle. In many ways this has been long awaited, much anticipated, and I’m sure Vietnam veterans who are gathered here today will appreciate the recognition and this great show of respect by the Australian public.
LTGEN CAMPBELL: It’s a great honour, I know that our veterans will be delighted with the award of this citation for gallantry. They earnt it. Their struggles, their courage and their teamwork on the battlefield at Coral and Balmoral were extraordinary, and in the keeping of the finest traditions of the Australian Army and our military heritage all the way back to our Anzac forebears. I’m delighted to be here today to join with them to commemorate those who have fallen and also to recognise the distinguished service of all those who participated in the Battles of Coral and Balmoral.
REPORTER: (inaudible) This is, I guess, one of the you know, not as well-known battles as some others. How important is today’s announcement to raise the profile of this … (inaudible)
DARREN CHESTER: Well today’s announcement is all about respect and recognition. Obviously, the Battles of Coral and Balmoral are some of the fiercest fighting in the Vietnam War. A lot of people have heard about the battles at Long Tan and perhaps Coral and Balmoral didn’t receive the recognition it perhaps deserved at the time, but I think in many ways this has been much anticipated, long awaited by the veterans and their families and I’m sure that they will enjoy today’s commemorations as much as you can but at the same time solemnly reflect on those who lost their lives and those who were wounded in those battles.
REPORTER: What’s your message to the families in terms of applying for this citation?
DARREN CHESTER: It’s important that the families and the veterans themselves go through the appropriate process of applying for the citation, we want to get to them as quickly as we possibly can. This is about recognising everyone who was there, so I think the Unit Citation for Gallantry reflects the extraordinary bravery, the courage of those who were in these battles, some of the fiercest fighting in the Vietnam War and we deeply appreciate and respect that service, and today is a further demonstration of that.
REPORTER: I understand families of the deceased veterans can still apply?
DARREN CHESTER: Absolutely, the families of the deceased can apply for the citation, which is important, it’s part of the legacy, or the heritage, I guess for those families involved. We are determined to respect all those who served. Veterans from former conflicts, veterans of a more modern era and their families and I think it’s important that we have a commemorative event like this for the 50th anniversary and also, I’m just so pleased that we are able to announce this citation for gallantry for the unit has been awarded.
REPORTER: We’ve got a commemoration here. Are there other commemorations being held across the country for the 50th Anniversary today?
DARREN CHESTER: Right across Australia over next week, in fact over the next couple of weeks there’ll be some commemorative events for the battles of Coral and Balmoral, and it’s important that communities right across Australia have that opportunity to recognise and respect the service of our Vietnam War Veterans.
REPORTER: The Vietnam veterans are in their 70s now, how important is it to give them this recognition now?
DARREN CHESTER: The Vietnam veterans that I have spoken to really appreciate the fact that this modern generation of Australians is recognising and respecting their service, so for them it perhaps provides some element of closure, certainly a recognition that they fought in some fierce battles in the Vietnam War. The Battles of Coral and Balmoral are an example of the Australian soldiers at their finest. Great courage against a numerically superior opposition and they came through the battles, tragically lost 26 lives and up to 100 were wounded but the Australian soldiers did our nation proud in those battles.
REPORTER: Did they deserve to be ranked alongside those from Gallipoli, the western front and Kokoda?
DARREN CHESTER: I rank all those who put on the uniform of our nation in the highest levels. Whether you put on the uniform of the Navy, the Army or the Airforce, if you are prepared to place yourself in harm’s way and help those who can’t necessarily help themselves, you’ve earnt the undying respect of your nation and certainly our Vietnam veterans are ranked with the finest traditions of the Australian military.