SHOALHAVEN school children will soon get the chance to see and touch a piece of Australian military history.
In a superb gesture of generosity, the family of Victoria Cross recipient Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley has loaned a set of his medals to the Nowra RSL Sub-Branch, including the VC, to be used for educational purposes.
Nowra RSL secretary Rick Meehan, who has got to know the family over the past couple of years through his Digger Day activities, has been “floored” by the generous offer.
“Dasher’s son George, who lives at Tuross, contacted the RSL and offered his father's medals, some family photographs and a couple of his final letters written home from Vietnam to the RSL to be shown to and used to educate local school children,” Mr Meehan said.
Warrant Officer Kevin Wheatley was 28 when he was killed in Vietnam in 1965, staying with a mortally wounded comrade Warrant Officer Ron Swanton.
Despite being under heavy machine-gun and automatic rifle fire, Wheatley carried and dragged his wounded comrade some 200 metres from open rice paddies into the comparative safety of a wooded area.
Wheatley again refused to leave Swanton, even with the Viet Cong metres away. He pulled the pins from two grenades and calmly awaited the enemy holding a grenade in each hand.
His acts of heroism, determination and unflinching loyalty in the face of the enemy will always stand as examples of the true meaning of valour.Warrant Officer Kevin “Dasher” Whealtey’s Victoria Cross citation.
Shortly afterwards, two grenade explosions were heard, followed by several bursts of small arms fire.
The two bodies were found at first light next morning after the fighting had ended, with WO Wheatley lying beside WO Swanton. Both had died of gunshot wounds.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
The first of four Australian VCs from the Vietnam conflict.
George Wheatley and his mother Edna were guests at last year’s Digger Day and will again take part in this year’s event on July 28.
“George contacted us and wanted to know if we would like to loan his father’s medals and make them available for visits to local schools or for children to come to the RSL Hall to see them and hear about his father,” Mr Meehan said.
... under heavy machine-gun and automatic rifle fire, he half carried/dragged Warrant Officer Swanton out of the open rice paddies into the comparative safety of a wooded area, some 200 metres. He was urged to leave his comrade behind but refused ...Warrant Officer Kevin “Dasher” Whealtey’s Victoria Cross citation.
“It’s an extremely generous offer and we are honoured to be able to show local children his medals and tell his story.”
Along with the medals are two of the last letters WO Wheatley wrote home - one to his son George, signed Love Forever Daddie and the other to his sister “Floss”.
In the letter to his sister he paints a grim picture of what the Aussie troops were facing.
“I’ve been pretty lucky so far (not a scratch) although it’s not for the want of them trying they have had a go with everything rifles, 50 cal machine guns, rocket launches, mortars, artillery and last but not least naval gun fire. So you can see it isn’t a bed of roses” he wrote.
There are also a couple of photographs - one of WO Wheatley, another when his image was used on the front page of Macarthur Chronicle Anzac Day edition and one of a young George, aged 11 or 12, when he was presented with his father’s VC by Lord Casey in 1967 and a copy of his citation approved by the Queen.
“Dasher’s VC is pretty unique,” Mr Meehan said.
“Especially his citation. The Queen reads each citation and approves the wording and awarding of the medal.
“Dasher’s citation is apparently the only one she ever personally changed the wording of. She changed the wording to reflect the true sacrifice he made so no one could ever question the awarding of his VC.
“This is just such a great offer to the RSL and we would be privileged to show any local schools who might be interested. They can simply contact us at the RSL.”
WO Wheatley was also awarded the US Silver Star, and the South Vietnamese awarded him the Knight of the National Order of Vietnam, the Military Merit Medal and the Cross of Gallantry with Palm for his gallantry in Vietnam.
Warrant Officer George “Dasher” Wheatley’s Victoria Cross Citation
The citation in the London Gazette, which announced Wheatley's award on December 15, 1966 reads:
The Queen has been graciously pleased on advice of Her Majesty's Australian Ministers to approve the Posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: 29890 Warrant Officer Class II Kevin Arthur Wheatley, Australian Army; Training Team Vietnam.
Warrant Officer Wheatley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in 1956. He served in Malaya with 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment from 1957 to 1959 and then with 2nd and 1st Battalions of the Regiment until 1965 when he was posted to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.
His posting in this area has been distinguished by meritorious and gallant service.
On 13 November 1965 at approximately 1300 hours, a Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defence Group company commenced a search and destroy operation in the Tra Bong valley, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) east of Tra Bong Special Forces camp in Quang Ngai Province. Accompanying the force were Captain F. Fazekas, senior Australian Advisor, with the centre platoon, and Warrant Officers K. A. Wheatley and R. J. Swanton with the right hand platoon. At about 1340 hours, Warrant Officer Wheatley reported contact with Viet Cong elements. The Viet Cong resistance increased in strength until finally Warrant Officer Wheatley asked for assistance. Captain Fazekas immediately organised the centre platoon to help and personally led and fought towards the action area. While moving towards this area he received another radio message from Warrant Officer Wheatley to say that Warrant Officer Swanton had been hit in the chest, and requested an air strike and an aircraft, for the evacuation of casualties. At about this time the right platoon broke in the face of heavy Viet Cong fire and began to scatter. Although told by the Civil Irregular Defence Group medical assistant that Warrant Officer Swanton was dying, Warrant Officer Wheatley refused to abandon him. He discarded his radio to enable him to half drag, half carry Warrant Officer Swanton, under heavy machine-gun and automatic rifle fire, out of the open rice paddies into the comparative safety of a wooded area, some 200 metres away. He was assisted by a Civil Irregular Defence Group member, Private Dinh Do who, when the Viet Cong were only some ten metres away, urged him to leave his dying comrade. Again he refused, and was seen to pull the pins from two grenades and calmly awaited the Viet Cong, holding one grenade in each hand. Shortly afterwards, two grenade explosions were heard, followed by several bursts of small arms fire.
.... after refusing to leave his dying comrade, he was seen to pull the pins from two grenades and calmly awaited the Viet Cong, holding one grenade in each hand.Warrant Officer Kevin “Dasher” Whealtey’s Victoria Cross citation.
The two bodies were found at first light next morning after the fighting had ceased, with Warrant Officer Wheatley lying beside Warrant Officer Swanton. Both had died of gunshot wounds.
Warrant Officer Wheatley displayed magnificent courage in the face of an overwhelming Viet Cong force which was later estimated at more than a company. He had the clear choice of abandoning a wounded comrade and saving himself by escaping through the dense timber or of staying with Warrant Officer Swanton and thereby facing certain death. He deliberately chose the latter course. His acts of heroism, determination and unflinching loyalty in the face of the enemy will always stand as examples of the true meaning of valour.