Battle of Long Tan: Maida Vale man to be recognised for gallantry

Neil Bextrum, a former soldier from Maida Vale, has been awarded a Commendation for Gallantry for his role in the Battle of Long Tan. Picture: David Baylis.
Neil Bextrum, a former soldier from Maida Vale, has been awarded a Commendation for Gallantry for his role in the Battle of Long Tan. Picture: David Baylis.

A FORMER Australian soldier from Maida Vale will be recognised in Canberra today for his contribution in the Battle of Long Tan.

Neil Bextrum has been awarded a Commendation for Gallantry for his role in the Battle of Long Tan 50 years ago, a recognition welcomed by Returned Services League WA branch president Peter Aspinall.

“My heartiest congratulations go to Mr Bextrum for his part in the Long Tan battle,” Mr Aspinall said.

“He is now being recognised along with others by the Minister for Defence.

“It’s also great to see that the significance of Long Tan and all those who participated in it are being recognised and acknowledged.

“On August 18, the 50th anniversary of this battle will not just honour those brave men now being recommended for awards, but all of the 60,000 Australians who served in Vietnam and particularly the 521 who died for their country.”

MORE: RSL member still haunted by Long Tan

Federal Defence Minister Dan Tehan said 10 soldiers from the Battle of Long Tan would be awarded a military honour or have their existing honour upgraded.

Since the Vietnam War, Mr Bextrum has worked as a racehorse trainer and with cattle and sheep, and lived in both the North-West and in Texas for 15 years.

Mr Bextrum is the only former veteran from WA being awarded for his role in the Battle of Long Tan at the ceremony.

“Most of the battalion were from Brisbane,” he said.

“We lost 18 guys and 35 were wound-|ed.”

Mr Bextrum was a 21-year-old in Vietnam and served as a rifleman.

His role was very important to the troops at the Battle of Long Tan.

But he said his Major was more important in saving lives.

“It’s thanks to the work of Maj Harry Smith for his leadership and fighting for our recognition that I am receiving this commendation now,” he said.

“Harry Smith is like Phar Lap; his knowledge meant we won the battle, and his strength and big heart has saved many Australian lives in that battle.

“He’s fought for this for decades.”

But Major Smith was not the only big-hearted Australian at the battle. Mr Bextrum is receiving his commendation for gallantry, because he too displayed big-hearted action on the battle field.

He recovered the body of an Australian soldier that had been shot.

In the recommendation by the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal it states Mr Bextrum “should be awarded his Commendation for Gallantry after he risked his own life to try to rescue a fatally wounded Digger”.

Mr Bextrum’s battalion lost 18 members in the Battle of Long Tan.

“After the war, I came back and didn’t think about it much,” he said. “It wasn’t until the early 80s I think I went to my first service at Nollamara on Anzac Day.”

Mr Bextrum was very pleased to be attending the service in Canberra for the 50th anniversary of the battle.

“Others in the battalion are going to Vietnam but I’m happy with the Australian War Memorial,” he said.

He may even get to meet the Prime Minister, who is attending the ceremony along with the Governor General and the Minister for Defence on Thursday.