Thirty-nine years ago an Australian Army Platoon saw action in Vietnam. Years later, the army said they didn't exist. What secrets were they trying to hide?
For 39 years the Australian Defence Force strenuously denied a unit called the 2nd Defence and Employment Platoon existed during the Vietnam War.
The platoon was a makeshift rapid deployment force of 38 men, all regular troops, based at the Australian Task Force Headquarters at Nui Dat in 1969 from late April to June.
The ragtag unit was thrown together with diggers left behind in Vietnam when their regiment returned to Australia. It was so slapdash it didn't even have an officer or sergeant in charge.
But a rugged ex-Royal Marine stepped forward to take the lead. Jim Riddle was ten years older than most of the young diggers and only an acting corporal as he'd been in too many bar fights and insulted too many officers to keep his stripes. But he knew enough of war to keep these young diggers alive.
The young Aussies respected Riddle and his battle experience. When the platoon was thrown into one of the biggest firefights of the Vietnam War against hundreds of enemy, Riddle proved his leadership, bringing all his men through unscathed and leaving the battlefield littered with enemy bodies.
It was a highly successful operation, but immediately afterwards Riddle's platoon was mysteriously disbanded, the team broken up and scattered throughout the army. There were no official records. It was as though the platoon never existed. It was a Ghost Platoon. Something happened at that ambush that compelled the army to bury the platoon's existence, and the secrets that went with it.
Three decades later the men of the platoon set out to prove their unit had existed. They ran into bureaucratic brick walls and official denials from the top brass and official historians. What's more, the army strongly denied darker deeds done after the fighting, deeds which some of the men allege were war crime atrocities.
Proving their unit existed required diligent detective work until they broke through and beat the system. After an investigation the government finally acknowledged the unit had existed and praised the brave leadership of Jim Riddle. But the long battle caused immense psychological damage to the veterans. They'd fought for their country, but then had to fight their own country.
Frank Walker traces what happened to the men of the Ghost Platoon, the impact the war had on them and their long battle to prove the unit existed. His findings are a shocking indictment of the long term effect of war: a private who murdered his senior officer still doesn't know why he did it; some are still afraid to speak 40 years after the war; veterans of the platoon alleging they have been beaten up for speaking out; and there are demands for a Royal Commission.
This is the story of the men of the Ghost Platoon.
About the Author
Frank Walker has worked as a journalist for 35 years, most recently as chief reporter for The Sun-Herald covering defence, veterans affairs, national security and terrorism. He's worked on The Sydney Morning Herald, The National Times, for News Limited in New York and Deutsche Welle international radio in Germany. For three years he was The Sun-Herald correspondent in the USA. He's now left newspapers to freelance and write books. In 2009 Hachette published his first book The Tiger Man of Vietnam - the remarkable true story of the secret war of Captain Barry Petersen in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It was a bestseller. He lives in Sydney with his family. Ghost Platoon is his second book.
39 Australian soldiers, Vietnam, 1969. The army denied their existence. What didn't they want us to know? I have been itching to get my hands on this for months but it has been very tightly embargoed. This is the story of an Australian army platoon called the 2nd Defence and Employment Platoon and an ambush. The platoon was mysteriously disbanded, its official records removed and all traces of the incident removed - until now.
'One of those great untold stories and Walker tells it with verve and excitement and, with meticulous attention to detail' (THE TIGER MAN OF VIETNAM) [Sydney Morning Herald]'Drips with adventure and intrigue and has at its centre a personality boys of all ages will identify with' (THE TIGER MAN OF VIETNAM) [The Age]'Walker's finely researched book goes beyond the biographical account of an Australian war hero' (THE TIGER MAN OF VIETNAM) [Sun Herald]'Walker's book about Petersen, THE TIGER MAN OF VIETNAM, is well-crafted and racily written' (THE TIGER MAN OF VIETNAM) [Weekend Australian]
Number Of Pages: 352
Published: 27th September 2011
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.4 x 2.6
Weight (kg): 0.42