HIGHLY decorated Australian soldier Barry Long is one of the members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam who served in a secret unit which was not publically mentioned and operated in Vietnam from 1962 to 1972.
A Kalamunda resident, Mr Long said the AATTV is still known as a ‘cloak and dagger’ group, despite it being 44 years since the unit left Vietnam. He was posted there in 1970.
The Australian government was asked to supply a specialist unit to work with and train the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam).
Members of the AATTV fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the Vietnamese army and became the most decorated unit in Australian military history. They also build close links with the people they worked with, living close by when on rest and eating with the Vietnamese soldiers.
“We ate together and shared meals on patrol, and when the rations came in we had warm cool drink and cigarettes and we shared all of that,” Mr Long said.
Mr Long’s Vietnamese army partner at the time was a man known to Australian soldiers as Harry. His real name was Major Tran Ngoc Hue. He was part of the Black Panther Unit in Vietnam, known there as the Huc Bao unit and for many years after the war, Mr Long tried to find him.
“During a major push into Laos in 1972 Major Hue was badly wounded and we heard no more.
“I thought he was dead.”
In fact Harry was living in America, where he had been exiled to after 13 years in a jail in Hanoi, fondly called the Hanoi Hilton by the Australian and American troops there at the time.
The Team trained and eventually fought with the South Vietnamese Army, US Special Forces, the CIA and a number of tribal units.
The AATTV also affectionately called ‘The Team’ were the first Australians to fight in Vietnam and, ten years later, the last to leave.
During the course of the war, The Team was awarded four Victoria Crosses and a multitude of other decorations. It is today, the most highly decorated unit in Australian military history with 114 decorations. There were also a further 254 individual awards for soldiers were also handed out and another 376 from the Vietnamese Government along with the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm and the United States Meritorious Unit Citation and “you can begin to see the esteem with which this unit was held within the military”, Mr Long said.
“We worked in what was then a DMZ, (demilitarized zone) that refers to a combat-free area between two enemies – although it seldom stayed that way,” he said.
Mr Long said the Australian soldiers built close relationships with their counterparts and other native soldiers and had two American soldiers in each unit of four men.
While the regular Australian army fought exclusively alongside other Australians, the men on the Team fought with the Vietnamese and Americans.
“It meant we developed very close bonds with the Vietnamese and understood the complexities and tragedies of the war better than any one else at the time,” he said.
In service, Mr Long, an Australian Warrant Officer, had several close calls on his life.
He was in the path of a rocket that killed several soldiers, he was buried under sand for some time and reported as being KIA, which was retracted an hour later when he emerged from a bunker which had collapsed on him.
“I survived twice being buried in sand,” he said.
“The second time we were evacuated into a field of fire but survived,” he said.
For the first time, this aspect of Australia’s war in Vietnam, will be revealed on TV on a three part documentary to be shown on SBS Television on Sunday night, called Vietnam the war that made Australia, screening at 8.30pm for three weeks.
When the war was over, many AATTV servicemen aided their Vietnamese counterparts and their families by helping them find refuge in Australia.
Development Producer with Joined Up Films, Darren Hutchinson said The Team was an amazing story and the main reunion featured in Episode Three was very moving.
“Barry Long and Harry’s reunion between two men who had been partnered for so long was full of mutual respect,” Mr Hutchison said.
“Of course Harry had been unsuccessfully “re-educated in a Communist camp for 13 years” before he moved to the USA.
“These army types are stoic as all hell, but there were very warm moments between the men and their reunion was powerful and dignified.
“Being based North of the Demilitarised Zone meant that the team was very isolated and without support which I think they took a lot of responsibility for, sending the soldiers in without back up, which was harrowing for the Australian officers.
“Their experience was so different in Australian military history and it could be described as quite an exotic experience in one sense,” Mr Hutchison said.
WA Veterans Affairs Minister Joe Francis said the AATTV made a significant contribution to Australia’s efforts during the Vietnam War.
“As a specialist unit of the Australian Army it was the first in with a small team of advisers led by Colonel Ted Serong prior to Australia increasing its contribution with a full battalion in 1965.
“Veterans and ex-service personnel hold a special place in the Australian community.
“I acknowledge the service of men like Barry Long who in the ANZAC tradition left our shores to defend our values and freedom,” Mr Francis said.