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Mere Man

After 50 years the legendary Frank Alcorta receives gallantry award

Frank AlcortaROB PARER

THREE years ago Francis Xavier (Frank) Alcorta was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to veterans and their families and to journalism.

But this week it was announced that he was to be awarded a long overdue national honour for what was an episode of extraordinary bravery in a lifetime of astonishing achievement.

The Australian Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal released its recommendations for gallantry awards for 11 soldiers who fought in the epic Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam 50 years ago next Thursday. Frank was one of them.

“There were three recommendations for a Medal of Gallantry - one for a deceased digger - and I am pleased as punch to inform you that I was one of them,” Frank told me.

I first came to know and respect Frank when he was teaching at Aitape High School in the West Sepik in 1973-74.

It is very difficult to do justice to Frank’s life as it has been so diverse. In each facet he has reached seemingly impossible goals.

When I first met him, Frank had arrived in Australia without much English or money from the Basque region of Spain. He cut cane and worked in the outback, fought in Vietnam and then ended up in PNG.

His modesty meant that he never told me about his exploits in Vietnam; I only discovered years later when I found articles from his battalion newsletter.

I was astounded when I read his war record and saw that his company commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mollison, had recommended him for a Victoria Cross.

Lt Col Mollison wrote:

Frank Alcorta is the bravest man I have ever met. It was a privilege to have served with him and it is a monumental miscarriage of justice that he was not the recipient of several bravery awards.

Cumulatively, his bravery deeds warranted a VC but all he got was an MID. Two things mitigated against Frank Alcorta being suitably recognised.

The first is that I was no longer commander of A Coy and the second was that, when we attempted to submit commendations towards the end of our tour, we were told not to bother as the whole ―quota for the Task Force had been awarded to soldiers in other units.

The same thing happened again after the Battle of Bribie in February 1967 and after a few other battles and contacts. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches during Operation Vaucluse in September 1966 while acting platoon commander 2 Platoon, 6th battalion RAR.

Frank first went to PNG as a patrol officer (kiap) but he decided to take to teaching, becoming a high school teacher at Aitape.

In 1974 Frank made a unique, epic and unaided lone crossing of PNG. Much lesser stunts in PNG have captured the attention of the world, made people famous and led to books being written about them.

After returning to Australia, he obtained degrees and became a lecturer at Charles Darwin  University.

Rob & Meg Parer with Frank AlcortaAfter his academic role, Frank carved out an outstanding new career as a journalist for Northern Territory News and found the time to write some excellent books, He also became known as one of the Territory's great characters.

And now Frank and 10 of his comrades, after a long and frustrating campaign by their commanding officer Lt Col Harry Smith have been recognised for their heroism at the Battle of Long Tan, where – on 18 August 1966 in a Vietnamese rubber plantation - a small force of just over 100 Australian troops engaged and fought off a superior force of between 1,500 and 2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.

Now Frank has been awarded the Medal for Gallantry, surely a crowning achievement on a life of such achievement and purpose.


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Robert L Parer CMG,MBE

Frank emailed me the other day to say "Rob,on August 18, the Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan fought in 1966, I have been invited to Kilcoy to attend what is likely to be a moving ceremony. Quite a number of veterans from all over are likely to join, including Lieut Colonel Charles Mollison, our company commander in the battle and also a good friend for many years."Unfortunately I can not attend.Lt Col Mollison wrote:
" Frank Alcorta is the bravest man I have ever met."

Hugo Wspinoza

Hola Frank. I heard your name in the news some time ago. I went to Tasmania for a holiday and I was told that you moved to Queensland. Thank for your help the time you were in Darwin. I'm still here.

Col Krohn

Congrats Frank, as is often said 'good things happen to good people' and you are a fine example of that. I'm proud to have known you.

Grant (Watty) Watt

Hello Francesco, Great to hear you are alive and still kicking a few goals. I left Darwin 2002,have been back a couple of times but not the same without Murph, Cowdy and your goodself.

Never got that mine off the ground but enjoyed my 30 years in the NT.

Look after yourself young fella.

Rob Parer

ABC News Tuesday, 8 November 2016: 'Battle of Long Tan soldiers finally awarded bravery medals 50 years on'.


So typical of Francis Xavier Alcorta OAM MG not to let me know he was to be presented his Medal for Gallantry in Canberra from the Governor-General.

The Medal for Gallantry has only been awarded 56 times since it was introduced.

He had warned me many times that he didn't want any more stuff from his past brought up again.

I had organised his amazing life story to be portrayed in 'Australian Story' but by the look of it will have to wait until he falls off the perch, which, given the toughness of this guy, will be many years after I have gone

As the ABC script put it:

"Ten Australian soldiers have been recognised for their bravery more than 50 years after they fought in the Vietnam War's Battle of Long Tan.

"On 18 August, 1966, members of D Company, who were outnumbered 20 to one, fought against the odds to defeat the Viet Cong.

"About 245 Viet Cong were killed in the rubber plantation and 18 Australians were killed and more were wounded.

"But for half a century many of the men received no official recognition of their courage, despite sustained campaigning for recognition.

"Presenting them with their bravery awards, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove told them they were brave, dedicated and professional."

Ann Shaw

Congratulations to Frank. So pleasing that he has finally been recognised for his heroism. It was an honour to know Frank when he worked at the NT News.

James Morrison

Could you please pass on my congratulations to Frank
I knew him for a short time in 1988,
He made me very welcome in the Territory
he introduced me to a MM winner
Now he has his and very well deserved
James Morrison

Tony Wright

Thanks, Rob, for sharing this story of a remarkable Australian.
He achieved so much in diverse fields of endeavour.
It is pleasing that his exceptional bravery in Vietnam was finally recognized.

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