This would turn out to be a highly emotional day for all concerned. Packed and ready to return to Saigon, we had two very important stops en route. First we went to Nui Dat and stood on the village’s main road, a strand of bitumen that was once the Australian Army Base’s air strip. We visited the kindergarten school built by Australian ex-servicemen (they have repainted the gates but the kangaroos remain) and the helicopter landing pads near the SAS hill.
We passed the concert bowl where Little Patty and Col Joye had been performing for troops the night of the Long Tan battles and we also made a special pilgrimage to the Ucdaloi (Australian) well which was discovered and properly established by Sandy and his men in 3 Field Troop as a precursor to establishing the base camp at Nui Dat for the incoming Task Force.
Nearby we found the foundations of the Task Force HQ huts and Sandy explained how the attacking enemy force intercepted at Long Tan had been heading for the 3 Field Troop lines, en route to the HQ. And we walked to where 3 Field Troop had pitched their tents – a special moment for the family of a Sapper who had served with Sandy.
We had been joined by local tour guide Huong who has been working in this area for 10 years and speaks three languages other than her own (and is learning a fourth). Among her other many insights, she pointed out the cashew nut trees on which the nut grows outside the fruit.
The next stop was the Long Tan Cross and although the rubber trees have been cut down for replanting, we benefitted greatly from having watched video material about the battle in the previous days.
Jimmy explained the political significance of the cross – it is one of only two memorials to foreign troops in Vietnam, the other being to French troops at Dien Bien Phu – and then Sandy led a small remembrance service for our group.
Having seen what we had seen and knowing what we now knew, it’s no surprise that there were few dry eyes as we concluded the purely military part of our tour and headed onwards to Saigon.
Along the way, we stopped at a Viet Cong Heroes Cemetery where all the graves have little solar powered lights that come on at night. It must be a magical sight. And then we walked across the new bridge at Ba Ria, the sit of that amazing feat when Australian and American sappers, working together, in the course of 24 hours replaced a bridge that had been destroyed by Viet Cong explosives. As you’ll see from the pictures below, it was quite a stretch but it kept the road to the docks at Vung Tau open.