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.
After 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.