Vietnam veterans awarded 50 years on from war

Frank Mallard and Hans Hurij with the medals awarded to them decades after the war. Picture: David Baylis        d444997
Frank Mallard and Hans Hurij with the medals awarded to them decades after the war. Picture: David Baylis d444997

A SYMBOL of recognition, some 50 years in the making, has made its way into the palms of two local Vietnam War veterans.

Hans Hurij, of Henley Brook and Frank Mallard, of Ellenbrook were recently awarded the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation.

They served with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) under the United States 173rd Airborne Brigade, who already received the Cross of Gallantry in 1970.

Because Australians were not formally offered the award, the Australian rules meant it could not be recognised here.

Decades later, reforms on foreign award recognition opened the gate to allowing Australian veterans to receive accolades outside Australia.

The award from the former South Vietnamese government was finally recognised in Australia in May – 45 years after US veterans in the173rd Airborne Brigade received theirs.

“It’s better late than never,” Mr Hurij said.

For Mr Hurij, the toils of war took its toll and the trauma resulted in him retiring early from a long career with the fire services.

“We came across a lot of resentment at the Vietnam War which was directed at us when we returned,” he said.

“It left its mark on a lot of guys; many became reclusive due to the stigmatisation of the war and they just wanted to be left alone.

“We were largely shunned by much of society and that had a big effect on a lot of guys.”

The 1RAR participated in seven operations with 173rd Airborne Brigade between May 1965 and May 1966.

It was only in May this year Australian veterans were eligible to apply for the award, recognising specific military units that distinguished themselves in battle.

Mr Mallard received his award in the mail but organised a morning tea at Government House for WA veterans receiving the award to be recognised.

“It’s a gallantry award, not one you should just be sent in a box,” he said.

“”I’m a great advocate for recognition of the retired guys and even though this is late, it’s now here.

“They deserve the accolades.”