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Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur Wheatley (Posthumous)

Thursday 7 November, 2019

Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur Wheatley (Posthumous)

Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

13 November 1965, Tra Bong Valley, South Vietnam

 

Kevin Arthur ‘Dasher’ Wheatley was born in Sydney on 13 March 1937, the third child of Raymond and Ivy Wheatley.  Following his schooling, he worked as a milk carter, food steriliser, machine operator and brick burner.  At the registrar-general’s office in Sydney on 20 July 1954, Wheatley married milk bar assistant Edna Eileen Davis. 

Wheatley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in June 1956.  Following his initial recruit training he was posted to the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR), eventually going on to 3RAR, 2RAR and 1RAR by 1961.  He joined the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) in March 1965 and was made temporary warrant officer class 2.

Short and stocky with a powerful body, Wheatley was liked for his relaxed attitude to soldiering.  He was tough, confident, uninhibited in his language and forceful when making a point, but this was tempered with a ready smile and a sense of humour. 

Wheatley was a keen footballer.  He represented 1RAR in rugby competitions for several seasons.  His keen interest and participation in the game were marked in 1967 by the inauguration of a trophy for an annual competition between the Australian Services Rugby Union and the Sydney Rugby Football Union.  A sports arena at Vung Tau was even named after Wheatley.

At the time of Wheatley’s death the Australian government’s policy was to bury its war dead overseas, but Wheatley’s body was returned to Australia when the necessary funds were privately raised by nine Sydney businessmen.  He was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery at Eastern Creek in Sydney.

Wheatley was survived by his wife and four children.  In addition to being awarded the Victoria Cross, he was awarded the United States Silver Star, the Military Merit Medal and Cross of Gallantry with Palm and was made a Knight of the National Order of the Republic of Vietnam.

 

His citation reads:

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 Nhai Provence.  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 towards the action area.  While moving toward 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 Civilian 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 intro the comparative safety of a wooded area, some 200 metres away.  He was assisted by a Civil Irregular Defence Force 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.

 

The London Gazette

13 December 1966


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