On June 6, 1966 the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney arrived off the coast of Vietnam. This ship—once the pride of the Australian fleet—had been converted to a cargo ship, a very important cargo ship however. You see it was to carry the troops, vehicles and munitions for the Australian army in Vietnam. It became known to army personnel as the “Vung Tau Ferry”.
As I stood on board and looked out over the green forest and sand dunes, I wondered what it would be like to serve in this country. For the next three days we worked to get our gear together so we could move to our base camp at Nui Dat. The RAEME (Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) workshop, to which I was attached, was placed on the perimeter of the camp. This meant that our team had the responsibility to guard our position from enemy attack. Our workshop was attached to 1 Field Engineers Squadron and my responsibility was to maintain and repair all the Land Rovers, trucks, bulldozers, graders and other plant equipment.
We had set up two bunkers to guard our position and there was an automatic rifle in each of them. Behind the bunkers, and in front of the tents in which we slept, we had also dug weapon pits so that if we were attacked the men could easily get to the pits and set up a field of fire to support the bunkers. On the night of August 16 we were mortared. Since I was on guard duty that night, I was in the bunker and reasonably safe but the fellows sleeping in the tents weren't so lucky and more than 20 were wounded that night. Usually the enemy attacked straight after such a barrage—designed to soften you up. However that night nothing happened. In the morning D Company 6 RAR was sent out to search for the enemy that had mortared us.
Major Harry Smith MC, commanding officer of D Company 6 RAR, wrote a gripping account of the battle. Originally thinking there were only 60 Viet Cong soldiers, the Australians, New Zealanders and Americans encountered a large force. Fortunately they found a good defensive position, and with their large artillery and backup from armoured personnel carriers and air support, were able to prevail.
“Viet Cong records later captured by US forces indicated the total Viet Cong losses at Long Tan were in the order of 500 dead and 750 wounded,” Major Smith reported. Australian casualties included 17 killed and 21 wounded, with a further fatality and more injured in the armoured personnel carriers.
Viet Cong records later captured by our forces revealed their battle plans for the attack on our Australian Task Force base. The Viet Cong even knew exactly where the weak spot in our defences could be found. That spot was right in the area where the 1 Field RAEME workshops were based—my section. The two automatic rifles we had could never have stopped the large Viet Cong force and obviously except for the incredible gallantry of our forces, and the lives of those 18 men who died, I would not be here writing this now.
Next year, on August 18, it will be 50 years since the Battle of Long Tan. Ten years after the battle I met Christ. When I realised that He died for me on the cross of Calvary I experienced the same feeling that I had when I realised that 18 men had actually died to protect me and the rest of our forces in Vietnam. I was totally awed by that incredible thought. Like the beautiful hymn says, “Who am I, that the King would bleed and die for?”
At the time as a new Christian I couldn't help but consider, is there any difference between a man dying for me and God dying for me? Nothing can ever take away from the bravery and gallantry of the men who died in that battle. And history will always remember them as such. But that God came down and died for me? That's beyond my comprehension.
It's also an incredible thought that those men never actually knew who I was even though they gave their all. But Jesus Christ knew me personally, all my inadequacies and all my faults, and yet He still gave up His life!
I also think of the dead Viet Cong fighters. They were just faulted human beings too. They had families. They had dreams, fears, hopes and dreads. Yes, they were fighting for Communism—an ideology that resulted in the death and imprisonment of millions of people across the globe. But Jesus died for them too. And it's likely many died without knowing Him. But God knew each and every one of them by name.
The beauty of heaven’s message is that Jesus came down and died for all of us on this war-torn and weary planet. He was accused, abused and sacrificed—for all of us.
Who can completely understand it? May His name be praised and worshipped forever and ever.
Kevin Gollschewski writers from Springwood Adventist Church, Queensland.