SYDNEY – The iconic Long Tan Cross, a symbol of Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War, has been returned to the country nearly 50 years after it was placed at the site of a bloody battle, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Wednesday.
The cross was unveiled at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where it was transferred from Vietnam in early November.
“The original Long Tan Cross, a tribute to the Australians who fell at the Battle of Long Tan, and the centerpiece of Australian remembrance in Vietnam, has returned to Australian shores forever,” said Turnbull, who thanked the Vietnamese authorities for their “great act of generosity.”
The Australian War Memorial received the cross after Hanoi agreed to return it days before the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum was held in Danang in central Vietnam.
The cross was erected by Australian soldiers in 1969, three years after a battle at a rubber plantation in Long Tan, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon).
The battle, the bloodiest that Australian troops were involved in Vietnam, took place on Aug. 18, 1966, when a detachment of 100 Australians resisted an assault by about 2,000 VietCong Communist guerrilla troops.
Long Tan ended in an Australian victory, costing the lives of 18 Australians and 245 guerrillas.
The cross has long-been a delicate issue in Vietnam, where in recent years the communist authorities allowed small groups of veterans to hold memorial services on the condition that they do not exhibit uniforms or decorations.
However, in 2016, Hanoi banned at the last minute the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the battle even though 1,000 Australians had traveled to participate in the ceremony.