In 2014, Brian decided to stop searching after 12 years. “Maybe they don’t want to be found … they want to stay together.” However, he has recently discovered new evidence of an uncharted bomb crater, which was missed due to its close position to another crater. This site aligns with his and other veterans’ memories. In May 2019, Brian will return to Balmoral for his final dig. He’s “quietly confident” that he’s found the right place, and he will be “ecstatic” if he is correct.
John Bryant, General Doan (Former Battle Commander, who led the 7th NVA Division enemy forces at the Battle of Balmoral) and Brian Cleaver. Photograph taken in 2014 during the filming of The Crater.
On May 13, 2018, Brian attended the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra. Only days earlier, the 3,000 Australians who had fought at Coral and Balmoral were awarded the Unit Citation for Gallantry, which was only the third time this has been awarded in the Australian military. Brigadier JJ Shelton, who commanded 3RAR during the battles, watched the ceremony on television from his hospital bed, and died shortly after the ceremony finished. He had waited 50 years to see his Battalion recognised for their bravery.
Memorial at the site of the Battle of Balmoral, April 2018. Photo by Hilary Andrews.
The second attack on Balmoral was the turning point in Brian Cleaver’s life. It permanently altered the course of his life – as a result he developed PTSD, and since then has lived with the psychological wounds of the battle. His search for the 42 buried NVA, in order to return their spirits to their families, is his attempt to move on from that haunting night at Balmoral.
What makes Brian unique in his search is that he is not searching for Australian soldiers. Instead, he’s trying to help the former enemy. “Yes, they were always enemy during the Vietnam War,” he says in The Crater. “The war’s over, it’s 45 years over. Let’s forget about the basics of the war, let’s look at rebuilding humanity.”
Not only did the Vietnam War and his experiences prove to be a turning point in Brian Cleaver's life, but his awakening and journey of sacrifice after the war provides a significant turning point for all students of history. In Brian's words, a rebuilding of humanity no longer includes a them and an us. The nation needs to be thankful for the total experience of all those who served in the Vietnam War and their personal sacrifices that followed their service.
Brian Cleaver and Hilary Andrews on Vietnam Veterans' Day, August 18, 2018.
Andrews, Hilary. (2018, August 18). Personal interview with Brian Cleaver.
- This three-and-a-half-hour interview with Brian Cleaver was extremely useful for threading together a narrative and gaining an understanding of the events that occurred at the Battle of Coral-Balmoral from his point of view, as well as to learn about his life after the war and hear personal stories. It was an honour to be able to meet with him.
Balmoral After Action Report. Australian Army Commanders’ Diaries (Vietnam) – AWM95 Subclass 1/4 - Headquarters, 1 Australian Task Force, Annex C, 1 - 31 May 1968. Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1373509
- These reports are the official daily military after-action reports written by unit commanders, outlining what occurred in a very factual and clear way. This source was useful as it gave an official account of the events and helped me to clearly understand everything that happened.
Cleaver, B. (2018). Narrative: Operation ‘Toan Thang’ – Vietnam – 24th May-5th June, 1968. Unpublished document.
- This 39-page document was written by Brian Cleaver and details his experiences at FSBs Coral and Balmoral. Similar to the interview, it was very valuable in gaining an understanding of the events from Brian's perspective and very powerful to see original photographs in the context of his narrative.
Beveridge, R. (1968, May 28). Aerial view from a 9 Squadron helicopter of FSB Balmoral on the morning of May 28, 1968. Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1267113
Bryant, John (Photographer). (1968, May 28). Overlooking the battle field at FBS Balmoral. Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1106659
Crothers, R. (1968, May 28). Bien Hoa Province, South Vietnam. Wounded North Vietnamese soldiers captured during the battle being treated by soldiers from 3RAR. Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C318594
Personal photographs of FSB Balmoral provided by Brian Cleaver.
Photograph of FSB Balmoral memorial by Hilary Andrews.
Australian War Memorial. (2018, May 15). "Vale Brigadier Jeffrey James “JJ” Shelton DSO MC". Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/vale-Jeffrey-Shelton
- This website tells the story of Brigadier JJ Shelton, who was the Commanding Officer of 3RAR.
Booth, M. (2018, May 12). "The battles of Coral & Balmoral: May-June 1968". Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/the-battles-of-coral-balmoral-may-june-1968
- This website provides a brief summary of the Battles of Coral-Balmoral.
Ekins, A. (2018, April 11). "They’ll come looking for you". Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/wartime/FSB-Coral
- This website provided an overview of the Battles of Coral-Balmoral, which was useful in finding and compiling general information relating to the attacks.
Ellery, D. (2018, May 11). "Battle of Coral Balmoral remembered 50 years on". Retrieved from https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/battle-of-coral-balmoral-remembered-50-years-on-20180418-p4zea7.html
- This article describes the events that occurred during the Battles of Coral-Balmoral.
Unknown Author. (1968, May 29). "Australian Troops Hurl Back Attacks." The Canberra Times, Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/107054361
- This page 1 newspaper article from The Canberra Times, written the day after the second Battle of Balmoral, recounts the events from an official point of view. It provided an interesting contrast to Brian's personal experience of the same battle and provided an interesting angle for introducing Brian's story.
Unknown Author. Press Release. (2014, March 13). "Academy Award winning filmmaker David Bradbury to film Vietnam’s ANZACs." Retrieved from https://www.if.com.au/academy-award-winning-filmmaker-david-bradbury-to-film-vietnams-anzacs/
- This article is a press release about the documentary The Crater (using its working title at the time of writing), which provided helpful background information about the crater digs.
Unknown Author. (2015, August 1). "Australian veteran seeks mass grave of 42 Vietnamese soldiers for 12 years." Retrieved from http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/special-reports/137311/australian-veteran-seeks-mass-grave-of-42-vietnamese-soldiers-for-12-years.html
- This is an online Vietnamese news article that describes Brian's search for the 42 missing NVA.
BOOKS AND PUBLICATIONS
Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (2018). Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
- This document was the official programme for the 50th anniversary service commemorating the Battles of Coral-Balmoral, which was held at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra on May 13, 1968. The programme included interesting photos from the AWM collection and a summary of the battles.
Ham, P. (2007). Vietnam: The Australian War. Sydney, New South Wales: HarperCollins Publishers.
- This book was extremely comprehensive and gave lots of information about the Vietnam War, as well as referencing many other sources, which I then went on to use. It also had two extremely detailed chapters about Coral-Balmoral, which were very useful when writing the factual parts of the essay.
Hodges, I. (2008). The Battle of Fire Support Bases Coral/Balmoral. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
- This was a relatively short but information-rich book from the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It was very comprehensive and gave detailed descriptions and insights, which were useful when researching and writing the essay.
McAulay, L. (1988). The Battle of Coral. Hawthorn, Victoria: Century Hutchinson Australia.
- This book is considered to be one of the definitive books about the Battle of Coral-Balmoral. It was extremely useful as it provided very detailed insights into the events that took place.
McNeill, I. & Ekins, A. (2003). On the Offensive – The Official History of Australia’s Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948 – 1975. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.
- This resource is the official history of Australia's involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts, including at the Battles of Coral-Balmoral. Many other sources referenced this offical history, and as a result it was valuable to read the relevant chapters, not only to gain information but to also gain a deeper understanding and insight which I wouldn't have had otherwise.
Moremon, J. (2002). Vietnam. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
- This book from the Department of Veterans' Affairs includes overview information about the Vietnam War. On each page, it takes an inscription from the 'wall of words' at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra, and writes about the significance or meaning of those words. It was very interesting to learn about these inscriptions and the inspiration behind them.
Picken, B. (2012). Fire Support Bases Vietnam. Newport, New South Wales: Big Sky Publishing.
- This was a very detailed book which discussed various Australian and American Fire Support Bases in Vietnam during the war, including Coral and Balmoral.
Bradbury, D. (Producer and Director). (2015). The Crater: A True Vietnam War Story [Motion Picture]. Australia: Spirited Films.
- The Crater is a documentary about Brian Cleaver and his search for the 42 missing North Vietnamese soldiers buried at Balmoral. This documentary was very powerful and moving, and I watched it before my interview with Brian Cleaver.
Burns, K. & Novik, L. (Producers and Directors). (2017). The Vietnam War [Motion Picture]. United States of America: Public Broadcasting Service.
- The Vietnam War is a ten-part PBS documentary about the Vietnam War, which took the producers ten years to make. Watching the series was extremely valuable, if disturbing in parts, and helped me to better understand the entire Vietnam War.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Anzac Portal. (n.d.). Map showing the location of the Battles of Coral and Balmoral, in Bien Hoa province, Vietnam. Retrieved from https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/australia-and-vietnam-war/events/combat/battle-coralbalmoral
Australian Government. Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. (2018, April 3). Report of the inquiry into unit recognition for service at the Battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. Retrieved from https://defence-honours-tribunal.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Coral-Balmoral-Report-Final.pdf
- This document is a report explaining the process of awarding the 1st Australian Task Force a Unit Citation for Gallantry.
Australian War Memorial. (2017, October 10). Coral and Balmoral, Battle of Fire Support Bases. Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/coral
- This Australian War Memorial website provides an overview of the Battles of Coral-Balmoral. As one of the first websites I visited, it guided my research by providing an overview of the battle facts and statistics.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Anzac Portal. (n.d.). Australia and the Vietnam War – Battle of Coral/Balmoral. Retrieved from https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/australia-and-vietnam-war/events/combat/battle-coralbalmoral
- The Anzac Portal website was a useful resource since it provided extensive information about the Vietnam War, as well as the Battles of Coral-Balmoral.
Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Anzac Portal. (n.d.). The Birthday Ballot – National Service. Retrieved from https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/australia-and-vietnam-war/events/conscription/birthday-ballot
- This website described the process of conscription in Australia and the 'Birthday Ballot', as well as Australian attitudes towards conscription during the Vietnam War.