This is the second part of a series. You can read part one here.

The next day, D Company returned to the “butcher’s yard” in full (and dry) daylight.  This was a bad decision: a fresh unit should have been sent so that the morale of D Company would not be affected.  The day was hot and humid. Close among the trees were bodies and parts of bodies.  Crouton-sized pieces — most of them belonging to the Vietnamese.  The stench was unspeakable.  But there was one saving grace: two wounded Aussies left behind in the chaos were still alive.  The Vietnamese had not returned in the dark after the battle to recover weapons and kill or capture any wounded enemy.

“Declassified Intelligence Map” (Australian Army)

Vietnamese casualties, much like those unfortunate enough to be under the 155s’ fire were all over the map.  Their command, of course, played down their losses and wildly exaggerated these of the Australians, claiming 700 “Digger” KIA and many “destroyed tanks.”  Clearly, somewhere up the chain both the number of Australian assaulting forces and their casualties was jacked up a tad.  It got to be like the Saigon five-o’clock follies again:  Some bogus mention of  “Chinese observer” reports and somebody higher up padding the numbers. Very conservative reports reliably indicate that at least 245 Vietnamese soldiers were killed and likely twice that number were seriously wounded.

The problems for D Company continued post-battle: One of the two wounded, who was recovered the day after, said that he was next to an NCO, who knew that he was wounded. But nonetheless the NCO made no attempt to get him out of danger, and when the survivors had to run shouted, “every man for himself” and scurried off.

The above took the company’s CO some time to find out. He had already put the NCO in for a modest decoration. Trying to retract his recommendation would just cause static from brass somewhere up the line, and would “taint” some of the other recommendations that he’d made. Higher brass would not want to tarnish an otherwise unexpected victory with a court-martial of an NCO for cowardice.

D Company’s CO also wrote up the Company Sergeant Major, Jack Kirby, for the Victoria Cross. And according to the ones who saw the Sergeant Major dancing between the raindrops with crates of ammo, the award was very much deserved. But the higher command said that they would not approve the VC for anybody, regardless of what they had done.