A family built from battle

Veterans gathered to commemorate their fallen on 28 February.

By Lucy Waldron

The date 28 February marks a solemn day of remembrance for the 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR), commemorating the sacrifices made during the Vietnam War.

This year’s Long Hai Commemoration Service held special significance as veterans and their families gathered at Weeroona Park in Stanthorpe, amidst the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival, to honour their fallen comrades and celebrate the enduring bonds of camaraderie.

Established on 14 July 1966 at Enoggera in Queensland, 8RAR played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War, forming part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) alongside 5RAR and 6RAR. Operating out of Nui Dat in the Phuoc Tuy province, the battalion engaged in numerous operations, including the significant Operation Hammersley, aimed at reconnaissance in the Long Hai area.

Tragedy struck on 28 February 1970 when eight brave men lost their lives due to a mine explosion in the Long Hai region, marking the deadliest day for the battalion during the conflict.

Since then, this date has been etched into the collective memory of 8RAR, prompting an annual Long Hai Commemoration Service to honour the fallen and reflect on their sacrifices.

Private Norman Steele, a proud Stanthorpe local and 8RAR veteran, vividly recalls his service during the Vietnam War.

Conscripted for his two-year National Service in 1968, Private Steele fondly remembers the camaraderie and sense of purpose among his fellow soldiers regardless of his short time with them.

“We didn’t have any infighting within the Platoon, everyone was just there to do their job, we had a really good group and leadership group which helped keep things together,” Private Steele said.

Despite the passage of 53 years since the Vietnam War, the solidarity among the veterans remains steadfast, with many travelling across Australia to attend commemorative services and support one another in times of need.

During the ceremony, MC Grant Coultman-Smith paid tribute to the profound sense of brotherhood that defines the 8RAR veterans.

“We trusted each other then and we still do, not meaning to be dramatic but we really did hold each other’s lives in the palm of our hands, also the knowledge that even now, one of us can put it out there that they are in trouble and we would be there to help,” Grant Coultman-Smith said.

“Whether we actually like each other or not, we are brothers, we are family and I would willingly march into hell alongside you all.”

The 8RAR Roll of Honour named all the men who were killed in action, who died from wounds received in action and who have died since Vietnam. Through misted eyes, the men and their wives laid poppies in remembrance of each man who made their Battalion into a family.