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Payne VC – The story of Australia’s most decorated soldier of the Vietnam War

By: Mike Colman (547/36064)
Publisher: ABC Books ISBN 9780733324888

In May 1969, Warrant Officer Second Class Keith Payne was leading a company of Montagnard soldiers near Ben Het, Vietnam. The company was overrun by a superior force of North Vietnamese regular soldiers, and when the skirmish was over many of Payne’s men were left behind, wounded, disoriented and at the mercy of the enemy.

Over the next three hours Payne, though badly wounded, returned to the battlefield three times, rescued forty stragglers, and led them to safety. For this act of valour he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Australia’s highest military decoration.

Returning to civilian life, Payne struggled to acclimatise, spending ten years in a haze of alcohol and prescription drugs, a nightmare not only for him but also his wife and five sons.

Keith Payne’s vivid story reveals his two acts of bravery; on the battlefield, and resilience overcoming later demons. And it is also a stark reminder of the high cost and futility of war.

March 2009


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