Victoria Cross old guard salute new hero Mark Donaldson
Article from: The Australian
AUSTRALIA'S latest Victoria Cross winner, SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson, was not born when Keith Payne was awarded his VC for heroism in the jungles of Vietnam 40 years ago.
Along with Edward Kenna, who won his VC for service in New Guinea in 1945, the pair are the only surviving Australian winners of the country's highest military honour.
"From my own point of view I'm tremendously happy," Mr Payne said. "It takes me out of the youngest VC winner in Australia to one of the oldest."
Praising Trooper Donaldson, he said; "He'll remember his little party (gun battle) all his life - it will stay with him for ever."
Until yesterday, Mr Payne was our most recent recipient of the Victoria Cross.
On May 24, 1969, Warrant Officer Payne, under heavy enemy fire, instigated a daring rescue of more than 40 men, many of them wounded, and led them back to the battalion base.
Reflecting on the effects of the award, he told reporters that Trooper Donaldson's life would never be the same.
"He'll be forever on call but the army will look after him. I've just spoken to the RSMA (Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army) and they tell me he's got a warrant officer and some senior NCOs who will shepherd him along, and I'll be speaking to him shortly to give him some advice," he said.
Mr Payne heads the committee of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.
The veteran Digger said that when he first heard about the medal he feared it would be awarded posthumously. "I'm absolutely delighted we have a live one," he said.
"At a party like his, the chances of coming out alive are pretty negative - and he never got hit, and that's amazing."
The first Australian to be awarded a VC was Captain Neville Howse in 1900 during the Boer War.
Captain Howse (VC, KCMG, CB, KStJ) later became a federal MP and also served as defence minister.
Australians were awarded six VCs in that conflict, which lasted from 1899 to 1902.
During World War I, Australians won 64 VCs, including nine at Gallipoli.
Two more were added for gallantry during the Russian civil war in 1919. A total of 20 were awarded in World War II, and four during the Vietnam conflict from 1962 to1972.
But none was awarded for the Korean War - which the Australian War Memorial's chief executive, retired Major-General Steve Gower, says is unfair.
"There were extraordinarily heroic actions by the Third Battalion at the Battle of Kapyong and the Hook, really extraordinary, high-intensity fighting," he told The Weekend Australian.
And he offered a possible explanation. To be awarded the VC requires multiple eyewitness accounts to verify the individual heroism.
"The people who saw the valour might have been killed or didn't have time to put the recommendation in," he said.
"That is some of the anomalies people find interesting."
Trooper Donaldson is the first Australian to win the Victoria Cross for Australia, instituted under the 1991 honours system that replaced the imperial award held by Mr Payne.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Trooper Donaldson said he had never given much thought to the dangers he was exposed to.
"I'm a soldier ... I'm trained to fight, that's what we do," he said. "It's instinct and it's natural, and you don't really think about it at the time."