Returned servicemen and women are preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan with a service for Vietnam War veterans in Bendigo.
On 18 August 1966 19 servicemen, including one man from Bendigo, lost their lives during a battle in a rubber plantation in South Vietnam. A further 24 were wounded.
They were some of the 521 people who died during during the war, which Australia sent troops to in the early 1960s, first in a training capacity and then as a full-time force.
Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia Bendigo branch secretary Graham Flanders said the battle of Long Tan began after a patrol began searching for Vietcong soldiers they suspected had fired mortars into their camp.
Thursday marks 50 years since Long Tan, which was the first major battle Australia took part in during the war.
Mr Flanders said the battle began after soldiers patrolling a rubber plantation were taken by surprise. They had been drawn out of their base by what they assumed were a few enemy soldiers firing mortars.
Instead they found themselves under heavy fire as the Vietcong launched a major offensive. Australian, New Zealand and US soldiers found themselves fighting through a torrential downpour into the night.
“It wasn’t until the next day that they began to find evidence of how many enemy soldiers had attacked,” Mr Flanders said.
Military intelligence later estimated at least 1500 Vietcong had been involved in the attack, though some evidence suggested it was more like 2500. Just 111 Australian and Kiwi servicemen were stationed in the area during the battle.
Mr Flanders said 2016 marked 50 years since the battle. But Thursday would also be a time to commemorate all Australians who served in Vietnam from the early 1960s through to 1975.
“It was a very long war – the longest Australian military forces were involved in,” he said.
“(The annual event) started off all over Australia with small groups of veterans who had come back home/ It started small because of sentiment at the time against the war and grew from there,” he said.
Thursday’s commemoration activities will take place across Australia, with Bendigo’s beginning at the Soldiers Memorial Institute at 10.30am in High St with light entertainment.
It will be followed by a veteran’s march from the View St entrance of Rosalind Park to the Memorial Institute, speeches and a wreath laying.