They fought to the end

They fought to the end

Sun July 29, 2012 8:07am

'The team' was filled with battle-hardened soldiers and was spread all over Vietnam, helping train the locals, writes Max Blenkin.

Fifty years ago on Tuesday, the arrival of an unusual Australian soldier in Saigon had heralded the start of Australia's most controversial military deployment.

For the following three years, Colonel Ted Serong, a counter-insurgency expert and true Cold War warrior, was to command the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), whose 30 members arrived three days later.

Serong, who died in 2002, remains an enigmatic figure.

After leaving the Australian Army in 1968, he went on to consult on counter-insurgency for the US military and South Vietnamese government, departing Saigon by helicopter on April 29, 1975, the day before the city fell to North Vietnamese forces.

In his later years, he advocated assorted anti-communist and right-wing causes, serving as patron of a pro-gun citizens' militia group.

The AATTV, commonly referred to as ''The Team'', was to become Australia's most decorated unit of the Vietnam War. Four members won the Victoria Cross - the only VCs awarded in Vietnam.

So how did the Vietnam engagement come about?

The Melbourne historian Bruce Davies, a team member in 1967-70, said the then US secretary of state, Dean Rusk, visited Canberra in May 1962, pointedly asking what Australia, an alliance partner, might do to help in the struggle against the communist threat in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The answer initially appeared to be some aid but not much more. Australia offered a few military advisers but eventually settled on a team of 30.

The contribution was actually accepted against the wishes of the US military.

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