The Medal of Honor is the highest award the US bestows upon its’ soldiers in the field of combat. Major General Julian J. Ewell recommended such an award on Cooper for an action on 18 August 1968. The General’s 1968 covering letter appears below. His 1997 confirmation follows. General Ewell wrote again to the Australian Government in 1998, 2000 and 2001. None were considered.
The recommendation was supported by seven statements including Colonel James Hoag, 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, Colonels Devere Wright, Thomas Garvin and Frank Gately of III Corps DASC and Specialist 4 Don Goetz. Confirmation has also been received from Colonel James Patrick and Major William Walker who wrote the recommendation.
During the Vietnam War, the Australian Government was not allowing its personnel to received foreign awards. This recommendation, along with about 470 on other Australians were confiscated and filed in Canberra. Most of the intended recipients never knew they had been recommended for US awards.
In 1973 many records were destroyed in the US after a fire ravaged the Records Office. Those that were not destroyed on non US personnel were retired and sent to the person concerned. Early in 1975 Cooper’s records were sent to him care of Cathay Pacific Airways in Hong Kong where he worked. As he was on leave, the company forwarded the package on to his home address in Australia. As he was in Europe, his mother forwarded the package to the Australian Defense Department (ADF).
The ADF held an enquiry and claimed that the event on 18 August 1968 never happened despite the evidence proving otherwise. On the request of General Ewell the USAF awarded Cooper an Air Force Cross and asked the Australian Government to return the original recommendation package. The government returned only the basic recommendation and kept the eye-witness statements. The USAF could not then formally process the award and the AFC was withdrawn.
In 1997 General Ewell wrote the Australian Government, (copy above), enquiring if they intended to do anything about his recommendation. The Australians investigated the matter. After two years they decided nothing could be done as there was insufficient evidence. They would not accept the statements of senior, living US officers. Instead, they concentrated on the trivia, such as, time of the day and location as well as evidence they knew no longer existed. A chapter in the book covers this intrigue.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest medal the US awards. For an action on 10 May 1968, Lt Colonel Eric Antila, CO 5th Battalion 60th Infantry, recommended Cooper for this award. His FO that day was Lieutenant Tommy Franks, later, General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief. This recommendation has also been swallowed up by the Australian Government. Lt Colonel Antila’s covering letter appears below.
Over the years Cooper has managed to locate
copies of most of the documents supporting both awards.
It was not until 1974 that Cooper learned of the Medal of Honour recommendation. The recommendation had been hidden away on Australian Department of Defence files (D of D) since 1968. When the US cleared their archives of foreigners' files in March 1974, they sent the recommendation to Cooper in Hong Kong. As he was on leave in Europe, his company forwarded the package to his home address in Australia. His mother considered the package important and, she, being of the 'old breed' who thought politicians were there to help, forwarded the package to Lance Barnard, the Minister of Defence, thinking it would be treated with respect . It was fortunate that Mrs Cooper mentioned the contents of the package to some one associated with the press or this second package would have gone 'missing' also. The press gave the matter quite an airing which led to the Australian D of D being forced to respond to the news commencing an 'investigation' in July 1974. First the D of D denied that the action on 18 August 1968 ever happened. They kept this stance until September 1975 when their investigations revealed that General Ewell and Colonel Patrick, two of the recommending officers, had confirmed their recommendation of the M of H.
The US then asked the D of D to return the recommendation so that, on the request of General Ewell, an award could be made. In October 1975 the US awarded Cooper their Air Force Cross, the highest they could present to a foreigner, but with-held presentation until they received the original recommendation back from the Australians. The D of D only returned the basic recommendation but not the seven eye-witness statements. The US requested the seven eye-witness statements again but they were not forthcoming. The US also sort Australian Government concurrence for the award of the AFC. The D of D advised the US that Cooper had already been rewarded with the award of a DFC and no further recognition was necessary. The D of D omitted to mention that the DFC was not for the action the US wished to recognise. After exhausting all avenues to obtain the vital eye-witness reports, the US withdrew the AFC in November 1981. The USAF gave further consideration the award of the AFC in July 1985 but could not obtain the Australian Government concurrence. Using the 'ignore it and it will go away' principle, the matter then faded until General Ewell followed up with another enquiry with the D of D in June 1997.
Five months later the Minister of Defence, Bronwyn Bishop, appointed a Panel to review Cooper's Vietnam service. The Panel consisted of only two people. A retired artillery officer and an assistant secretary from the Awards and Symbols office. Neither had any knowledge of Cooper's day to day tasks and responsibilities as a Forward Air Controller.
The investigations of the Panel were conducted over a period of more than two years. At the outset a number of Cooper's supporters wrote to the D of D with their fears that the investigation would be a ‘white-wash' to achieve a desired (Government) result. Despite answers indicating that Review would be fair and unbiased, the negative results showed a flawed investigation with positive facts being disregarded and trivial negatives being amplified.
The Panel set about reproving the events of thirty years earlier when they had at hand the recent statements of the recommending officers and confirming letters containing the signatures of five US Colonels. All they needed to do was to accept the statements of these senior US officers. To not do so indicated distrust in people like Lt General Ewell who had under his command the Australian Task Force. That is, their own Supreme Commander.
In its' Findings, the Panel endeavoured to throw doubt on the veracity of some documents by claiming the signatures were forged. Forensic experts were not able to support this claim but the matter was included in the final report anyway. This claim was introduced even after General Ewell and others had confirmed their recommendations.
During the investigation the Panel found that a Bronze Star for Valour had actually been awarded for the action on 18 August 1968 . Instead of taking this as evidence that the action had occurred as stated, the Panel claimed that the US had downgraded the award from the CMH to the BSM. They disregarded the fact the US sometimes awards an immediate BSM as an interim to the CMH as the CMH takes a long time to process.
The Panel put emphasis on the Brigade Commander, who Cooper saved, not being able to be identified. General Ewell has stated that the Brigade Commander was Colonel Robert E. Archer. CO 2 nd Brigade. There were three Brigades in the 9 th Infantry Division – the 1 st Brigade, led by Colonel Henry E. (Hank) Emerson, who was on the ground at the contact point on 18 August 1968, the 3 rd Brigade, led by Colonel George R. Benson who was busy with a Contact near Cai Be, leaving only Colonel Archer as the Brigade Commander concerned. Further, Cooper himself identified Colonel Archer from a photograph.
At the contact area on 18 August 1968 there were five helicopters shot down within as many minutes. The Panel have used this to confuse the issue as to which helicopter did what and when. Colonel Emerson can recall a ‘Scout' helicopter being hit during this engagement but nothing further.
This led to the Panel claiming that the time of the day of the incident was in question. One report said the incident was in the late afternoon and another contradicted by saying it was in the early evening. Surely these times coincide to a degree!
Another doubt the Panel had was the location of the incident. All documents point to Ap Tay Phu being the area, which is where the 1 st Brigade was engaged. Because Cooper used Cai Be as a substitute name for an un-named village in his briefing to the fighter pilots, the Panel claimed that the location could not be established positively.
The pilot of the helicopter could not be identified. At that stage of the war the OH-23s were being handed off to Vietnamese Units. As such this OH-23 was probably being flown by a US pilot on loan to the Vietnamese Unit. Where Cooper thought the pilot was dead, he may not have been, as he could have been hoisted out of the wreck by the Huey which hovered over the wreck 15 minutes after the crash. This would have given the pilot early medical attention and assisted in survival. There were no helicopter casualties recorded for that day in that area. If the pilot survived he would not be on a casualty list. If he subsequently succumbed some time later, his death would not be recorded as the 18 August but on the day he became deceased.
Of the 66 supporting Units of the 9 th Infantry Division, the Panel reviewed less that 15% of their logs and reports.
The Report by the Panel is 55 pages long. To evaluate every comment here would be impracticable. The Report is full of distorted, claims similar to the above, and obviously constructed to support a result that was predetermined. Any factual written documentation confirmed by its author was disregarded while emphasis was placed on information the Panel knew could no longer be substantiated.
The Report was released in March 2000 with no specific finding other than that the award of the Victoria Cross could not be supported. Mr Ron Horton of the Australian Awards Office said that, if further supporting evidence were to be brought forward, the case would be reviewed. However, each time more evidence is brought forward it is met with an immediate ‘FILE CLOSED' announcement.
A number of Politicians have tried to have the case revisited without success. In April 2000 Cooper applied, under the Freedom of Information Act, to receive a copy of the files supporting the Review Panel's investigations. At first this was denied. When finally a copy was received five months later, it showed that it had been vetted. Many pages were not sequential, there were answers to letters without an enquiry, enquiries without answers and subsequent letters indicating that there should have been an answer which was not there. One important document on file was a letter confirming there were 7 statements attached to a letter from the USAF covering the announcement of the Bronze Star for Valour on 18 August. These 7 statements were no longer on file even though all the other attachments were in place.
Cooper responded to the Report with a submission pointing out the errors and flaws in the Panel's investigation. This was ignored by the D of D.
The US then tried to reprocess the Air Force Cross and asked for Australian Government concurrence. This was not forthcoming. The Australian Government instead sent a copy of their flawed report to the US but did not send a copy of Cooper's response pointing out the errors it contained. Once again the US stopped processing the AFC.
Cooper wrote a number of letters to the D of D about the unfairness. The D of D denied sending a copy of the Report to the US . Finally Cooper made a complaint to the Defense Force Ombudsman in October 2002. The Ombudsman took up the issue with the D of D who stood by their claim that they had not released a copy of their Report to the US . Cooper provided evidence to the contrary. Finally, in September 2003, the D of D admitted that they had sent a copy of the Report to the US because ‘they considered it appropriate'. The Ombudsman pointed out to the D of D that their actions would have been more ‘transparent' had they also forwarded to the US a copy of Cooper's Rebuttal to their Report. The Ombudsman's powers, being limited in the matter of “Awards in Confidence”, prevented any further pursuance of that line of attack.
This Government attitude has not been levelled at Cooper alone but against Vietnam Veterans collectively. There are over four hundred cases on file. Australian Korean and Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans were, and are, allowed to accept foreign awards. The policy is only applied to Vietnam Veterans and although Government policy has changed allowing veterans to receive foreign awards, they still seem to be reticent in allowing it to apply to the Vietnam Veteran. The Government would choose to see the veteran's service denigrated rather than act positively and applaud his service. In the case of Cooper, having such high profile awards recommended, the Government's attitude has, not only placed Cooper's integrity in question, but given support for Cooper's detractors in their denigration of him. Surely the Government can not be further targeting the Vietnam Veteran who has been a public punching ball ever since the Vietnam conflict.
If one is to put aside any sinister intentions towards the Vietnam Veteran, the most logical explanation must be as follows. Up until, and including the Vietnam conflict, Australia 's awards were allocated on a quota system from Her Majesty, the Queen of England. The quota figures are described in “Sock it to 'em Baby”. This quota was inadequate to the extent that the English awards could not be awarded at the same rate the US were making awards to Australians. Once the ‘service' awards had been allocated to senior officers and appointments, there was little left for the fighting soldier. Due to the embarrassment that Australia could not reward its' own adequately, an even more embarrassing procedure was introduced. This entailed senior Australian officers briefing Veterans not to accept foreign awards. As this was extremely embarrassing to the soldier it was eventually decided that Australian Headquarters Vietnam would intercept all awards to Australians and ‘file' them. That is, make them disappear.
This Australian Government procedure came to a head after the Battle at Long Tan in August 1966 when a senior Vietnamese General tried to bestow awards upon the gallant men of that battle. When the General was told he could not present the awards he took it as an insult and it required Australian Diplomatic intervention to prevent the Vietnamese Government asking the Australians to remove their forces from Vietnamese soil. The Vietnamese General was permitted to award dolls to the soldiers and cigarette cases to the officers and sergeants in lieu of medals.
Despite this embarrassing situation the attitude on foreign awards to Australian Vietnam Veterans still continues today. The Australian Government has stated that they can not retrospectively change the legislation which existed during the Vietnam War and, therefore, they can not consider the outstanding awards due to the Vietnam Veteran. Further, the Government is frightened about the work load it might create if they were to address the injustices caused by their immoral actions of the past. If they allow one soldier's injustice to be addressed they are concerned about the ‘flood gate' effect after several hundred Veterans require their award claims to be satisfied. The Government unjustly caused the problem in the first place with great anguish to the Veteran. A grateful Government should spare no expense in correcting the injustice.