Peter Badcoe was born in Adelaide on 11 January 1934. He joined the South Australian public service after leaving school. He spent seven weeks in the16th National Service Battalion in 1952 and entered the Officer CadetSchool, at Portsea in Victoria, to undertake officer training in the regular Army. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant December 1952. He was allotted to The Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery in which he served in a number of regimental and staff postings until August 1965, including a tour of duty as Battery Captain of the 103rd Field Battery in Malaya. He then transferred to The Royal Australian Infantry Corps and joined the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) in August 1966. He was posted as Sector Operations Officer in Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam, where he won his Victoria Cross. His citation reads as follows:
On 23 February 1967 he was acting as an adviser to a Regional Force Company in support of a Sector operation in Phu Thu District. He monitored a radio transmission which stated that the Subsector Adviser, an American officer, had been killed and that his body was within 50 metres of an enemy machine gun position. An American medic also been wounded and was in immediate danger from the enemy. Major Badcoe, with complete disregard for his own safety, moved alone across 600 metres of fire swept ground and reached the wounded medic, attended to him and ensured his future safety. He then organised a force of one platoon and led them towards the enemy post. His personal leadership, words of encouragement, and actions in the face of hostile enemy fire forced the platoon to successfully assault the enemy position and capture it, where he personally killed the machine gunners directly in front of him. He then picked up the body of the dead officer and ran back to the command post over open ground still covered by enemy fire.
On 7 March 1967, at approximately 0645 hours, the Sector Reaction Company was deployed to Quang Dien Subsector to counter an attack by the Viet Cong on the Headquarters. Major Badcoe left the command group after their vehicle broke down and a United States officer was killed. He joined the company headquarters and personally led the company in an attack over open terrain to assault and capture a heavily defended enemy position. His personal courage and leadership turned certain defeat into victory and prevented the enemy from capturing the District Headquarters.
On 7 April 1967, on an operation in Huong Tra District, Major Badcoe was with the 1st ARVN Division Reaction Company and some armoured personnel carriers. During the move forward to an objective the company came under heavy small arms fire and withdrew to a cemetery for cover. This left Major Badcoe and his radio operator about 50 metres in front of the leading elements, under heavy mortar fire. Seeing this withdrawal, Major Badcoe ran back to them and by encouragement and example got them moving forward again. He then set out in front of the company to lead them on. The company stopped again under heavy fire but Major Badcoe continued on and prepared to throw grenades. When he rose to throw a grenade, his radio operator pulled him down as heavy small arms fire was being brought to bear on them. He later got up again to throw a grenade and was hit and killed by a burst of machine gun fire. Soon after, friendly artillery fire was called in and the position was assaulted and captured.
Major Badcoe’s conspicuous gallantry and leadership on all these occasions was an inspiration to all. Each action, ultimately, was successful, due entirely to his efforts, the final one ending in his death.
His valour and leadership were in the highest traditions of the military profession and the Australian Regular Army. His medals, are:
Victoria Cross, Australian Active Service Medal 1945-1975, Vietnam Medal,
United States Silver Star with Oak Leaf (awarded twice), National Order of the Republic of Vietnam (Knight), Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Gold Star and Silver Star (three awards), Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honour Medal, First Class, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
His citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
PETER BADCOE was born in Adelaide on 11 January 1934 and was educated in his home city. He joined the South Australian public service as a clerk. Early in 1952 he served for seven weeks in the 16th National Service Battalion and on 12 July entered the Officer Cadet School, Portsea, Victoria, from which he graduated second lieutenant on 13 December 1952.
Early postings included the 14th National Service Training Battalion and 1st Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. From late 1958 until 1961 he served in the Directorate of Military Operations and Plans at Army Headquarters as a general staff officer grade III. He returned to regimental duties with the 4th Field Regiment on 6 February 1961 and in June of that year was posted to the 103rd Field Battery, with whom he served a tour of duty in Malaya as a battery captain. After a third period with the 1st Field Regiment, November 1963 to August 1965, Badcoe changed his corps from artillery to infantry. He was promoted to temporary major on 10 August 1965 and posted to the Infantry Centre at Ingleburn, New South Wales.
In August 1966 Badcoe realized his ambition to serve in Vietnam when he was posted to the Australian Army Training Team there as sub-sector adviser to the Nam Hoa district of Thua Thien province. As an adviser he was concerned with military operations and training carried out by the Ruff Puffs in his district.
In December he was re-allotted to the sector headquarters of Thua Thien as operations adviser. Normally he would have been responsible for planning, liaison and associated staff work, but he took full advantage of the latitude given to advisers to lead forces into action whenever the opportunity arose. It was as province (or sector) operations adviser that he carried out the following actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
On 23 February 1967 he was acting as adviser to a regional force company in support of a sector operation in Phu Tho district when he monitored a radio transmission which reported the death of an American sub-sector adviser and the wounding of an American medical adviser. With complete disregard for his own safety Badcoe moved alone across 600 metres of fire-swept ground, attended to the wounded medical adviser and ensured his safety. He then organized a force of platoon strength and led them in a successful assault against the enemy machine-gun post near the body of the American adviser. He killed the machine-gunners in front of him, picked up the body of the dead American and ran back, over open ground still covered by hostile fire, to the regional force command post.
Two weeks later, early on 7 March 1967, the Sector Reaction Company was deployed to Quang Dien sub-sector to counter Viet Cong attack on the headquarters. Badcoe, who had left the command group when their vehicle broke down, joined the company headquarters and personally led the company in an attack over open terrain to capture a heavily defended enemy position. His action prevented the enemy from capturing the district headquarters and averted certain heavy losses.
Exactly one month later, on 7 April, Badcoe was on an operation with the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam Division Reaction Company, supported by armoured personnel carriers, in the Huong Tra district. As the 1st Army moved forward to its objective the company came under heavy small arms fire and had to withdraw to a nearby cemetery for cover. Badcoe and his radio operator were left fifty metres in front of the others, under heavy mortar fire. Badcoe ran back and rallied his men and got them moving but they were again stopped by heavy fire. He rose to throw grenades but was pulled down by his radio operator. When he got up to throw another grenade he was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire. Soon after friendly artillery was called in on the enemy position and it was assaulted and captured.
Badcoe was buried at the Terendak cemetery, Malaysia, his epitaph being ‘He lived and died a soldier’. In November 1967 an Australian and New Zealand soldier’s club in Vietnam was officially opened as the Peter Badcoe Club. A training block at the Officer Cadet School, Portsea, was also named Badcoe Hall in his honour.
For his services in Vietnam, in addition to the Victoria Cross, Badcoe was also awarded the American Silver Star. South Vietnam awarded him the National Order of the Republic of Vietnam (Knight), three Crosses of Gallantry (with Palm, Gold Star and Silver Star) and the Armed Forces Honour Medal, 1st Class.
Badcoe married Denise Maureen MacMahon on 26 May 1956. He had a family of three girls. His widow, who subsequently remarried, and his three daughters presented his medals to the Australian War Memorial for display in the Hall of Valour.
Keith Payne was born at Ingham in Queensland, Australia, on 30 August 1933. After leaving school he worked as an apprentice cabinetmaker and spent a short period in the Citizen Military Forces as a reserve soldier. He enlisted in the regular army on 13 August 1951, and was posted as an infantryman to the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) in September 1952.
He served in Korea with 1 RAR from April 1952 until March 1953, followed by service with the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade before returning to Queensland in September 1953. He married Florence Plaw, a female soldier, on 5 December 1954.
After a period of service training cadets and national servicemen, he was posted to the 3rd Battalion (3 RAR) in February 1960. He saw further overseas service with that Battalion in Malaya, and was promoted to sergeant on 1 June 1961. He joined the 5th Battalion (5 RAR) in February 1965 and was promoted to Warrant Officer in June of that year. This was followed by postings to the Officer Training Unit and with the 2nd Pacific Islands Regiment in Papua New Guinea. He was appointed to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam on 24 February 1969.
Payne’s initial duties in Vietnam were with a mobile strike force that was reconnoitring enemy infiltration routes from Laos into Vietnam. These routes were being used to surround the newly established Ben Hut Special Forces camp. On 24 May Payne was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the unit’s hilltop position was attacked by a large North Vietnamese force. A barrage of rockets, mortars and machine gun fire hit the two forward companies from three directions simultaneously. The indigenous soldiers under Payne’s command faltered, forcing Payne to mount a vigorous single-handed defence, firing his rifle and throwing grenades to keep the enemy from over-running his panicked soldiers. In the process, he was wounded in the hands, upper arm and hip by shrapnel from rockets and mortar rounds.
The US officer commanding the battalion decided to make a fighting withdrawal back to base. With a small number of soldiers from his company, which had suffered heavy casualties, Payne covered the withdrawal of the rest of the force, again relying heavily on gunfire and grenades to hold off the enemy. By nightfall Payne had gathered a composite party of survivors from his own and another company into a small defensive perimeter about 350 metres from the hill they had previously occupied, and which was now in the hands of the North Vietnamese enemy.
In darkness, Payne, on his own initiative, set off to find other survivors who had been cut off during the confused withdrawal. At around 9 p.m. he found one such group, having followed the fluorescence created by their movement through the rotting vegetable matter on the ground. This was followed by similar searches over hundreds of metres of dark jungle over the next three hours. Throughout, enemy soldiers were also searching the area and occasionally firing, but Payne was able to locate 40 men, several of whom were wounded, some of whom Payne personally dragged to safety. He organised for others who were not wounded to crawl out taking the wounded with them.
He led his group of rescued soldiers back to the temporary perimeter only to find that it had been abandoned when the remaining troops withdrew back to the battalion base. Undeterred, he led his party, along with another group of wounded he encountered on the way, back to the battalion base, arriving at around 3 a.m.
Payne was evacuated from Vietnam in September 1969 and received a warm public welcome back in Australia. He was presented with his Victoria Cross by the Queen aboard the royal yacht Britannia at Brisbane on 13 April 1970. He was also awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star, while the Republic of Vietnam honoured him with its Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. He served as an instructor at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and as a cadre staff with a reserve infantry battalion before his retirement from the army in 1975. He saw further action when he fought with the army of the Sultan of Oman as a captain in 1975 and 1976.
Keith Payne is still living in Queensland, Australia.
His citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
KEITH PAYNE was born at Ingham, Queensland, on 30 August 1933, the son of Henry Thomas Payne. He was educated at Ingham state school and then apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. On 13 August 1951 he enlisted in the regular army, after a short period in the CMF, and was posted to the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment in September 1952. He served in Korea with the 1st Battalion from April 1952 until March 1953, then the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Defence and Employment Platoon, and returned to Queensland in September where he married Florence Catherine Plaw, of the WRAAC, on 5 December 1954.
Periods with the 4th Cadet and the 11th National Service Training Battalions followed, and on 17 February 1960 he joined the 3rd Battalion. He accompanied the 3rd to Malaya, was promoted to sergeant on 1 June 1961 and in February 1965 joined the 5th Battalion; promotion to temporary warrant officer class II came on 4 June 1965. The following June he went as company sergeant major to the Officer Training Unit and from February 1967 until March 1968 served in Papua New Guinea with the 2nd Pacific Islands Regiment. He was posted to Headquarters Northern Command at Brisbane prior to being appointed to the Training Team in Vietnam on 24 February 1969.
Payne soon joined a mobile strike force battalion, which was reconnoitring enemy infiltration routes from Laos into Vietnam. Once the routes were located they were interdicted in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the recently constructed and occupied Ben Het Special Forces camp.
On 24 May (nearly two weeks after Ray Simpson [see following entry] was awarded the Victoria Cross) Payne was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the battalion was attacked by a numerically superior North Vietnamese force. The two forward companies were heavily attacked with rockets, mortars and machineguns from three directions simultaneously. The indigenous soldiers faltered so Payne rushed about firing his Armalite rifle and hurling grenades to keep the enemy at bay while he tried to rally the soldiers. In doing so he was wounded in the hands, upper arm and hip by four pieces of rocket shrapnel and one piece of mortar shrapnel.
The battalion commander decided to fight his way back to base and this movement commenced by the only available route. With a few remnants of his company, which had suffered heavy casualties, Payne covered the withdrawal with grenades and gunfire and then attempted to round up more of his company. By nightfall he had succeeded in gathering a composite party of his own and another company and had established a small defensive perimeter, about 350 metres northeast of the hill. The enemy by now had captured the former hilltop position.
In darkness Payne set off to locate those who had been cut off and disoriented. At 9 p.m. he crawled over to one displaced group, having tracked them by the fluorescence of their footsteps in rotting vegetable matter on the ground, and thus began an 800-metre traverse of the area for the next three hours. The enemy were moving about and firing, but Payne was able to locate some forty men, some wounded, some of whom Payne personally dragged out. He organized others who were not wounded to crawl out on their stomachs with wounded on their backs.
Once he concentrated his party he navigated them back to the temporary perimeter only to find the position abandoned by troops who had moved back to the battalion base. Undeterred he led his party, as well as another group of wounded encountered en mute, back to the battalion base where they arrived at about 3a.m.
Evacuated from Vietnam for medical reasons in September 1969, Payne received a warm public welcome at Brisbane before entering an army hospital for treatment. On his recovery he was posted as an instructor at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, remaining until he joined the 42nd Battalion, the Royal Queensland Regiment, at Mackay, Queensland, on 20 December 1972. He had been presented with his Victoria Cross by the Queen aboard Britannia, at Brisbane, on 13 April 1970. The United States awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star while the Republic of Vietnam honoured him with its Cross of Gallantry with bronze star.
Payne was honoured in other ways: his photograph and citation are displayed in the Hall of Heroes at the John F. Kennedy Centre for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; he was made a freeman of the city of Brisbane and the shire of Hinchinbrook; a park in the Brisbane suburb of Stafford, where he lived at the time of his decoration, was named Keith Payne Park in July 1971; and his portrait was painted for the Australian War Memorial by Stanley Bourne.
Payne left the Army on 31 March 1975. During 1975 and 1976, with the rank of captain, he fought with the army of the Sultan of Oman in the Dhofar war. Although the British army seconded officers and men for this campaign, Payne as an Australian had to go there in a private capacity. His family, whose home in 1983 was at North Mackay, consists of five sons.
Ray Simpson was born at Chippendale, New South Wales, on 16 February 1926. He joined the second AIF on 15 March 1944 and was sent to the 41st/2nd Infantry Battalion, a holding unit for young soldiers under 19 years of age. On the morning of 5 August 1944, Simpson was involved in a major breakout by several hundred Japanese prisoners of war and Cowra in New South Wales. Simpson’s duty on that day was to man a Vickers machinegun, identical to another gun which, several hours earlier, had been defended to the death by Privates Hardy and Jones, who were both posthumously awarded the George Cross. Simpson was later posted to the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion and served near the end of the war with the 26th Battalion, AIF. Simpson was demobilised in January 1947. He held a variety of labouring jobs before re-enlisting in 1951 for service in Korea with the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. He was made a lance corporal in November 1951 and was promoted to corporal in January 1953. During this period he married a Japanese woman, Shoko Sakai, on 5 March 1952.
Simpson was posted to the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, in January 1954 and served with that unit in Malaya for two years from October 1955. He was next posted to the 1st Special Air Service Company in November 1957 and remained with that unit until he was deployed as one of the initial group of advisers with the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam (AATTV). Simpson’s team flew to Vietnam in July 1962.After a year in Vietnam he returned to the Special Air Service unit but 12 months later returned to Vietnam for his second tour of duty with the AATTV, commencing in July 1964. During his second tour he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions when his patrol was ambushed in September 1964. The citation for his DCM reads as follows:
A platoon sized group, led by a Vietnamese Special Forces officer, was intercepted by a superior Viet Cong force. The Vietnamese leader was an early casualty; Warrant Officer Simpson was severely wounded by rifle fire in the right leg. Despite his wound, he rallied the platoon, formed a defensive position, contacted base by radio, and, by personal example and inspiring leadership held off repeated assaults by the Viet Cong force, until, with ammunition almost exhausted, and himself weak from loss of blood, the relief force he had alerted arrived at the scene. Even then, not until he was satisfied that the position was secure and the troops of his patrol adequately cared for did he permit himself to be evacuated.
Simpson had been promoted to sergeant in July 1955 and to Warrant Officer Class 2 in July 1964. However, in May 1966 Simpson left the Army for a second time but he again re-enlisted by travelling directly to Saigon a year later to commence his third tour of duty with the AATTV. At the time when he was awarded the Victoria Cross he was serving in Kontum province near the Laotian border, as commander of a Mobile Strikes Force.
The citation for his Victoria Cross reads as follows:
On 6 May 1969, Warrant Officer Simpson was serving as Commander of 232nd Mobile Strike Force Company of 5th Special Forces Group on a search and clear operation in KontumProvince, near the Laotion border. When one of his platoons became heavily engaged with the enemy, he led the remainder of his company to its assistance. Disregarding the dangers involved, he placed himself at the front of his troops, thus becoming a focal point of enemy fire, and personally led the assault on the left flank of the enemy position. As the company moved forward an Australian Warrant Officer commanding one of the platoons was seriously wounded and the assault began to falter. Warrant Officer Simpson, at great personal risk and under heavy fire, moved across open ground, reach the wounded Warrant Officer and carried him to a position of safety. He then returned to his company where, with complete disregard for his safety, he crawled forward to within 10 metres of the enemy and threw grenades into their positions. As darkness fell, and being unable to break into the enemy position, Warrant Officer Simpson ordered his company to withdraw. He then threw smoke grenades and, carrying a wounded platoon leader, covered the withdrawal of the company together with five indigenous soldiers.
His leadership and personal bravery in this action were outstanding. On 11 May 1969, in the same operation, Warrant Officer Simpson’s Battalion Commander was killed and an Australian Warrant Officer and several indigenous soldiers were wounded. In addition, one other Australian Warrant Officer who had been separated from the majority of his troops was contained in the area by enemy fire. Warrant Officer Simpson quickly organised two platoons of indigenous soldiers and several advisers and led them to the position of the contact. On reaching the position the element with Warrant Officer Simpson came under heavy fire and all but a few of the soldiers with him fell back. Disregarding his own safety, he moved forward in the face of accurate enemy machine gun fire, in order to cover the initial evacuation of the casualties. The wounded were eventually moved out of the line of enemy fire, which all this time was directed at Warrant Officer Simpson from close range.
At the risk of almost certain death, he made several attempts to move further towards his Battalion Commander’s body, but on each occasion he was stopped by heavy fire. Realising the position was becoming untenable and that priority should be given to extricating other casualties as quickly as possible, Warrant Officer Simpson alone and still under enemy fire, covered the withdrawal of the wounded by personally placing himself between the wounded and the enemy. From this position, he fought on and by outstanding courage and valour was able to prevent the enemy advance until the wounded were removed from the immediate vicinity. Warrant Officer Simpson’s gallant and individual action and his coolness under fire were exceptional and were instrumental in achieving the successful evacuation of the wounded to the helicopter evacuation pad.
Warrant Officer Simpson’s repeated acts of personal bravery in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest tradition of the Australian Army.
Simpson received his Victoria Cross from the Queen during a ceremony in Sydney on 1 May 1970. The United States awarded him the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valour. Simpson took up a position as administrative officer at the Australian embassy in Tokyo in 1972. He died of cancer in Tokyo on 18 October 1978 and was buried and the Yokohama war cemetery in Japan.
Simpson’s medals and a portrait are displayed in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial. His photographs and citation are displayed in the Hall of Heroes at the John F Kennedy Centre, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA.
Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley was born at Sydney on 13 March 1937. He 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 the 2nd and 1st Battalions of the Regiment until February 1965, when he was posted to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).
Following Wheatley’s arrival in Vietnam he spent six months with a Vietnamese battalion in Quang Tri Provence before being posted to Tra Bong along with five other Australian warrant officers in October 1965. Based in a Special Forces outpost deep in an enemy-dominated valley, the AATTV and American advisers led search and destroy operations by Vietnamese and Montagnard soldiers. It was during one of these patrols that Wheatley won his Victoria Cross. On 13 November 1966 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 Adviser, 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 it 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 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.
(Source: Palmer, A.M., Vietnam Veterans Honours and Awards, Army, Military Minded, Perth, 1996)
His citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
‘DASHER’ WHEATLEY was born at Sydney on 13 March 1937. Educated at Maroubra Junction technical school, Sydney, he worked as a brick burner and machine operator prior to enlisting in the regular army in June 1956. He was posted to the 4th Battalion in September and then to the 3rd Battalion in March the following year; his first operational duty was with the 3rd Battalion in Malaya in 1957-59. In August 1959 he joined the 2nd Battalion and in June 1961 transferred to the 1st Battalion. He joined the Training Team on 16 March 1965 as a temporary warrant officer; he had been appointed lance corporal on 19 January 1959, promoted to corporal 2 February 1959 and to sergeant 1 January 1964.
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 II R.J. Swanton were with the right hand group. At about 1.40 p.m. 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 two 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 and the Sydney Rugby Football Union was inaugurated in his name. A sports arena at Vung Tau, Vietnam, was named after him and his citation and photograph are displayed in the Hall of Heroes, John F. Kennedy Centre 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.