The story of a man who led a heroic charge against a superior enemy force in Vietnam – resorting to bayonet when the bullets had gone – and who then served his country as a kiap and teacher in Papua New Guinea – and who traversed the country from north to south for something to do in school holidays.
Frank ‘the mad Spaniard’ Alcorta, now 75, was born in the Basque region, migrating to Australia in 1960 “without a word of English, no profession, ten shillings in my pocket, a pair of strong shoulders and a willingness to work hard.”
In 1961, with drover friend, Alexander ‘Dutchie’ Holland, he prospected for opal, shot dingoes and kangaroos for bounty, built fences and did odd jobs in cattle stations in outback Queensland.
Taking a break in Brisbane with Frank at the end of that year, Dutchie pointed to an Army recruitment centre in Mary Street – and on 17 December they both joined up.
Four years later, on 18 August 1966, a day he’ll never forget, Sergeant Frank Alcorta stepped off an armoured personnel carrier (APC) into a swarm of enemy soldiers at the edge of a rubber plantation in Vietnam.
In the village of Long Tan, four kilometres east of the Australian base at Nui Dat, Australian troops had made contact with the forward units of 2,500 Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese regulars. There were just 105 men in D Company, and they were engaging a force over 20 times their strength.
Let the Federal MP for Hinkler, Paul Neville, take up the story (Private Members' Motion on the Battle of Long Tan, 31 May 2010):
[Alcorta's] A Company came forward with 10 APCs, seven of which were heading towards the battle. About a kilometre short of Long Tan they too met a group of Vietnamese of company strength. They took them on. One particular man whom I know in Bundaberg rolled off his APC [this was Alcorta].
He and his machine gunner lay on the ground, then got up and went straight into the face of the enemy, firing at them as they went. When their ammunition ran out they went with bayonets. It was such a convincing assault that the company of Vietnamese withdrew—turned and ran….
Sgt Alcorta’s A Company was able to break the enemy line and make it to D Company in the thick of battle. Mr Hinkler continued:
By the time they got to the battle proper it had been completed. Major Harry Smith and his men—105 of them—took on wave after wave of battalion strength enemy who tried as they would to pierce the perimeter. Not once did they cross the Australian perimeter and, in fact, some of the battle occurred at the range of only 15 metres….
They were recommended for awards, and in fact two senior officers received DSOs. Harry Smith’s likely award, originally to be a DSO, was downgraded and he received the Military Cross. Two of his lieutenants, Sabben and Kendall, were downgraded to MIDs, and his 12 men that he recommended did not receive awards, including one who was killed in action. Unbelievable stuff.