WOII K.A. WHEATLEY, VC(Post.)
Arriving in Vietnam in early 1965 he spent six months with a Vietnamese battalion in Quang Tri province prior to being posted to Tra Bong with five other Australian Warrant Officers in October 1965 to relieve the previous group of advisers. From the Special Forces outpost deep in the enemy dominated Tra Bong valley, in Quang Ngai province, the AATTV and American advisers conducted 'search and destroy' operations. The advisers, housed in an isolated area to which access was gained by Caribou aircraft operating from a small nearby strip, were attached to a Civil Irregular Defence Group (CIDG) of Vietnamese and Montagnard soldiers.
Daily patrols were conducted from the base to a design which gradually moved the probes further outwards. It was on one of these patrols, on 13 November 1965, that Wheatley performed the actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The company patrol had split into three platoon groups and Wheatley and Warrant Officer 2 R.J. Swanton were with the right-hand group. At about 1.40pm (1340hrs) Wheatley reported contact with Viet Cong soldiers and soon after he requested assistance. Captain Fazekas, who was with the centre platoon, organized about fifteen irregulars and fought towards the scene of the action. He received another message from Wheatley to say that Swanton had been hit in the chest. Wheatley requested an air strike and an aircraft for casualty evacuation.
About this time the right platoon began to scatter and although the CIDG medical assistant told Wheatley that Swanton was dying, Wheatley refused to abandon him. He discarded his radio and half dragged, half carried Swanton, under heavy enemy small arms fire, out of the open rice paddies into a wooded area 200 metres away. A CIDG member, Private Dinh Do, who was assisting Wheatley, urged him to leave Swanton. Wheatley refused,and was seen to pull the pins from two grenades. Holding a grenade in each hand, he calmly awaited the encircling Viet Cong.
Captain Fazekas led the search party that found the bodies next morning; both had died of gunshot wounds. (Fazekas was awarded the Military Cross for his courage in trying to relieve Wheatley and Swanton.)
Wheatley had married on 20 July 1954, and was survived by his wife Edna and four children. His body was returned to Australia for burial at Pine Grove Memorial Park, Blacktown, New South Wales. His name is commemorated in the New South Wales Garden of Remembrance at Rookwood war cemetery. In 1967 a trophy for annual competition between the Australian Services Rugby Union Football Union was inaugurated in his name. A sports arena at Vung Tau, Vietnam and the Land Warfare Centre Canungra Soldiers Club were named after him and his citation and photograph are displayed in theHall of Heroes, John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA. The United States also awarded him the Silver Star . He was made a Knight Of The National Order Of The Republic Of Vietnam, and received the Military Merit Medal and the Cross of Gallantry With Palm.
A copy of the Citation (kindly provided by Bill Tomlinson - Qld Br - AATTV 1966 - 67) as printed in the London Gazette: 13 December 1966: Supplement, 15 December 1966 reads as follows:
WHEATLEY, Warrant Officer Class II
Australian Army; Training Team Vietnam
13 November 1965, at Tra Bong Valley, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam
His posting in this area has been distinguished by meritorious and gallant service.
On 13th 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 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 1340hours,Warrant Officer Wheatley reported contact with Viet Cong elements.The VietCong 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.
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.
After Action Report by Capt F. Fazekas, MC
(provided courtesy of Peter 'Wallaby' Wilkes - AATTV 68 - 69). Note:
The incorrect spelling of the Surname: "Fazekas" is shown in the report
Special Forces Camp
A 107 Tra Bong
14 November 1965
Statement by 48049 Captain
I, 48049 Captain F Fasckas, make the following statement: I was the senior AATTV advisor on the 13th and 14th of November 1965 with the CIDG Coy, which went out for a two day operation. The patrol started from Tra Bong Special Forces Camp at 130500 and moved in an easterly direction along the main Tra Bong valley road to ES 376874. From these coordinates the patrol moved to ES 377868 and moved along the 1OO metre contour line to ES 426863. There the patrol had a short rest. While resting, the patrol commander, 2/Lt Quang, LLDB, talked to me and told me that he would not move along the western creek of Nai Hon Dost to ES 445845 where the coy was supposed to stay overnight. He instead said he was going to move his coy along the jungle edge on the eastern side of the feature. His reason was that the valley in which the original route was planned was too dangerous for his coy. After some discussion I agreed to the change of plan. The company moved off and moved very close to the jungle edge on the eastern side and I and also the other advisors, W02 Wheatley, W02 Swanton and SSgt Sershen agreed that we had been seen by the local population. At 1145 hrs the company arrived at ES 445846 and stopped for lunch.
I went to 2/Lt Quang and asked him what were his intentions. He stated that he would follow the original plan and split his company in three groups and continue with the search and destroy operation. As we all thought that surprise was lost, this seemed to be a reasonable plan.The only trouble was the time factor. It was 1300 hrs and did not allow us a full day. The force moved then to ES 447846 and one platoon went NW along the main track leading to Binh Hoa (1) ES 435871 without advisors. Another platoon and elements of the weapons Platoon (one MG and one 60mm mortar) moved north in the center of the valley with me and SSgt Sershen. The remaining platoon and the Combat Reconnaissance Platoon with Wheatley and WO2 Swanton and one MG moved NE following the Suci Tra Voi river.
My element made contact at ES 432852. We sighted 4 VC in huts near the area. The VC returned fire and broke in a westerly direction, abandoning one Ml carbine. The huts were destroyed by my element. This happened at approximately 1330 hrs. At the same time there was firing heard from WO Wheatley's group from the east. Upon contacting him on the -1 radio he stated that the CIDG were rounding up some civilian suspects. We continued to advance to ES450855 where we stopped to allow the flanking platoons to catch up. When I contacted W02 Wheatley he stated that they were in contact with the VC at ES 453848 but they could handle it. They had one CIDG slightly wounded at this time. He also stated that the CIDG Platoon commander was not doing anything at all and that he had just stopped. I then spoke to2/Lt Quang and on my radio he spoke to his platoon commander as his radio did not work. 2/Lt Quang then stated that they had three casualties from AR and MG fire. I contacted Wheatley again and asked him about the situation. He still said that they could handle it. Some more conversation took place between 2/LtQuang and Platoon commander and at the same time the firing increased. I spoke to WO Wheatley again and he said that they would require help. I told him we were on our way and to Lt Quang to move his platoon into the fight area. He was very reluctant and only when I said I was going anyway did he agree. I moved with SSgt Sershen immediately back taking point scout. The CIDG then slowly started to move also. About halfway back to the fight area SSgt Sershen shouted to me and said that WO Swanton was hit in the chest and that WO Wheatley requested MedEvac and immediate airstrike on the SE side of the bridge at ES 453847. I radioed immediately to the Tra Bong requesting the above. This was the last time we were in radio voice contact with WO Wheatley.
I continued toward the fight area where heavy firing was still going on and eventually arrived there with SSgt Sershen and about 15 CIDG. I called the mortar and machine guns forward but they did not arrive.
As we broke into the fight area we were engaged by small arms fire. I went to ground and engaged the enemy in the bridge area along the river bank. I had killed or wounded two or three VC, when they broke and started to flee. With about 7-10 CIDG soldiers, I followed them and broke into the village, where the VC broke contact. I saw two VC dead and I grenaded some hides in the village. As there was still firing going on behind me, I moved back to where SSgt Sershen was in contact with the VC. By the time I got back the firing had stopped and the Med Evac aircraft was in the area. I guided the helicopters in and evacuated two CIDG wounded. I also told the pilot to look for an Australian wounded (WO2 Swanton) thinking that WO Wheatley might be setting up another LZ in his position.
At this stage 2/Lt Quang stated that he gave orders to the platoon engaged in the fight originally to move back to Binh Hoa (1). Also that he was moving his own platoon back. I told him I would not move without the two Australians. He said that the platoon would be on the track to Binh Hoa (1) and that we could evacuate the wounded Australians from there. I moved back about 500metres to ES449849, then to ES 447853. At this time the requested airstrike bombed the SE end of the bridge and surrounding area.
At this stage I was sure of it, the CIDG would not fight anymore, so I requested the Nung reaction forces to be brought in at 1620 hrs. The reaction forces arrived at 1800 hrs. I lead the reaction forces to the fight area and placed them in two different ambush positions as at this stage it would have been fruitless to search. It was past 2030hrs and very dark. After this I headed over to LtCol Charles Erc(remainder of surname corrupted on original copy held) commanding officer of USSF Det C-1.
At 2230 we had one ambush sprung by 2 VC trying to cross the river. One CIDG slightly wounded. Enemy casualties unknown.
The next morning at 0615 we commenced the search.
We found two CIDG KIA and WO2 Wheatley and W02 Swanton together in a thicket
shot through the head several times from close range. We also picked up
several weapons their maps, watches and packs. At 0715 we evacuated them
to Chu Lai. After completing the search and med evac the force moved back
to Tra Bong.
From the position of the bodies it would be judged that WO2 Wheatley was dragging and carrying W02 Swanton from the open area to the thicket and stayed there with him, without a weapon, after the CIDG abandoned them, trying to help him and defend him.
The whole CIDG company, after the reaction force came in, claiming that they had no ammunition and that they were tired, moved back to Binh Hoa (1). They were picked up at the same location at 0730 hrs on 14 November 1965 and moved back to Tra Bong with the reaction force. The estimated number of VC was a platoon originally in the fight area, then they were reinforced from the village SE of the bridge probably with the remainder of the company.Total casualties were:
2 AATTV KIA 4 VC KIA Confirmed
2 CIDG KIA 16 VC KIA Unconfirmed
1 CIDG DOW
9 CIDG WIA
F. Fasckas, 48049
Capt, Inf, AATTV
The above statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge. Witness:
Theodore F Sershen
SSgt, USA Det A 107
Back to VC Winners
Back to Home Page