REFLECTING back on his role in The Battle of Long Tan, Major Bill "Yank" Akell does not consider his actions particularly remarkable.
The 10 Platoon radio controller was wounded, a bullet going straight through his body and damaging his radio set. Akell, a then-21-year-old army private and signaller for Delta company, was ordered to try and find the platoon to re-establish radio communication amid the mud and shattered trees of a rubber plantation in one of the most savage battles in Australian military history.
But this is a key part of the story of Long Tan.
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Major Akell is humbled to be portrayed in the new Australian blockbuster Danger Close, directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog), which opens on Thursday.
"People have asked me about what I did but I didn't think anything of it, simply because it was my role," Major Akell said. "I was a signaller and I knew the platoon had no communication, it's as simple as that. It wasn't until I left headquarters that I thought, 'where is the 10th platoon'...I knew roughly where they could be. All I could see what the backs of guys who were fighting...It's something you just do automatically. My job."
It's something you just do automatically. My job.Major Bill 'Yank' Akell
Major Akell said it was a strange feeling to have lunch with Toby Blome, the actor to play him. He said Blome paid close attention to detail from how he carried a machine gun to how he walked. Similarly on the set in Kingaroy, Major Akell stepped through each movement with Stenders who was meticulous in learning what unfolded.
"If you make a film about World War I there are no guys left to tell you something's wrong or didn't actually happen like that. With Long Tan, there's 60 of us left and (Stenders) is very keen to do it as accurately as possible," Major Akell said.
"He said because there were 108 men, there were 108 individuals doing remarkable things. What he had to do was take three actions of some individuals and attribute them to one person but certain actions required one character, like me on what he called the radio run.
"To me, I'm just Bill Akell but my granddaughter wanted an autograph from (actor) Luke Bracey. When I asked he stopped and asked 'The Yank Akell'? It is really humbling."
Major Akell said this film had been a long, much-needed time coming both financially for film-makers but also culturally. Danger Close, he said, was a powerful film detailing the afternoon of August 18, 1966 in South Vietnam when 108 young ANZACs held off an army of 2,500 experienced Viet Kong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
There were moments watching the film that, even though he knew would play out, still emotionally affected Major Akell, taking him back to horrific scenes in his life.
Major Akell hoped the movie, and the actions of one day, would help honour and deepen the understanding of the efforts of all ANZACS in Vietnam.
No-one wants to glorify war but you have to remember war is part of history. You can't shut it up, it helped shape AustraliaMajor Bill 'Yank' Akell
On returning from his first tour of Vietnam, the mood in Australian streets was somewhat celebratory after Long Tan. Major Akell said returning from his second tour was like arriving home in a completely different country. He could no longer wear his uniform home from the base if he wanted to stop at the shops.
Some soldiers' wives received horrible messages painted on their front doors, or the soldiers who got a raw deal from the army.
Australian culture has changed. Major Akell felt Australian peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan had done a lot to help shift Australians' respect to their defence force personnel and a desire to better understand history.
Major Akell remained in the army after Vietnam, serving overseas in Singapore, Malaya, Cambodia, France and England. He retired from the Australian Army in 2000 with the rank of major and second in command of Ballarat's 8/7RVR.
Since retiring, Major Akell has noticed this shift most on Anzac Day where the park near the Buninyong RSL now overflows with people, particularly young people wanting to learn more.
"No-one wants to glorify war but you have to remember war is part of history. You can't shut it up, it helped shape Australia," Major Akell said. "The tide is turning for Vietnam Vets - people are interested.
"It's tragic people get killed on both sides but a lot of heroics happen in war and we should talk about...Vietnam Vets were not treated right because it was an unpopular war but soldiers don't start wars, politicians do. We should never take it out on soldiers, they're just doing their job."
Danger Close: The Battles of Long Tan shows in Regent and Showbiz Cinemas in Ballarat from Thursday.
A special 6.30pm screening at Regent Cinemas on Thursday is sold-out. The event is a fundraiser for Ballarat Ranger Military Museum.
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