This is an edited version of the speech given by Luke Gosling, Member for Solomon, to the House of Representatives, on Monday, November 7, 2016.
Mr Speaker, I speak today as someone that has lost mates who died while serving and also as a son of a Vietnam veteran and as the grandson of a WWII veteran. Remembrance Day is an important opportunity to remember those who have gone before us.
This week the Territory will have great pride as one of our best known Vietnam vets, Frank Alcorta, is acknowledged for his role in the Battle of Long Tan.
Frank was instrumental in getting the national Vietnam Veteran’s Day commemorated on the 18th of August each year, which is the anniversary of the battle. A ceremony at Government House tomorrow will see the long belated acknowledgement of the courage of the men of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during the Battle of Long Tan. Frank was with Alfa Company travelling in Armored Personnel Carriers dispatched to assist D Company when it suddenly found itself in the midst of a couple of hundred Viet Cong. He was the only man sitting on top of an APC. He rolled off the vehicle and in an amazing act of bravery charged the enemy.
Although Mentioned in Dispatches, his courage is finally being recognised with the Star of Gallantry. I send my heartfelt congratulations to Frank and the other members of A Company who are in Canberra to receive well-deserved honours.
For years many Territorians were unaware of this side of Frank Alcorta, but they knew of his courage as a journalist who helped set up Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Territorian in 1986 and as a fighter for returned servicemen. In 2013 Frank received an OAM for his services to veterans and their families as well as to journalism.
On the walls in my Parliament House office is a famous photo taken in 1969 at the site of the Long Tan battle where a cross was raised in dedication to the 18 Australians who fell there. That photo was taken by journalist Don Hook, the father of Captain James Hook, himself a journalist currently based in the Middle East with the Australian Army. James is a Territorian who worked with Frank Alcorta on the Sunday Territorian along with NT News editor Jim Bowditch who served with Z Special Unit in WWII.
Jim, a well-known lefty as Frank called him, was also a fighter for workers’ rights. In his life time he was awarded a Military Medal for bravery as well as two Walkley Awards. These interwoven lives and histories is part of what I love about the Northern Territory; the stories, the strength of character, people who made the Top End.
Frank Alcorta told me he believes very strongly in the history of this great country which over the past 100 years has largely been shaped by the ANZAC tradition and its associated values — in Frank’s words, by “mateship, sacrifice, duty, love of country and a profound belief in freedom and democracy which makes us such an enviable society.”
Mr Speaker, Remembrance Day is a time to remember the fallen, it is also a time to remember those left behind, the families and the children. In 2003 Frank Alcorta lost his dear wife of nearly 40 years and, in his words, fell into despair.
But on November 11th, Remembrance Day of that year, a bunch of old mates, former soldiers, visited the Cenotaph near where Frank was living on a visit organised by an old Regimental Sergeant Major and a great mate of Frank’s, Ross Smith OAM. These former comrades in arms helped Frank and, as he puts it, “restored a little sanity in my otherwise befuddled brain and heart.”
The journey from the sodden fields of the Western Front when the guns were silenced for the first time in four years to mark the Armistice is a bloody one filled with sacrifice, courage and bravery. The sacrifices by generations of Australians have meant that we now live in this amazing, free and plural society.
Lest we forget.
*This article was originally published at Crikey blog The Northern Myth