Local war hero portrayed in Aussie blockbuster film

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A BOWEN-raised war hero is among those portrayed in a new Australian blockbuster film, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan.

Thomas Henry Lea, better known as ‘Buddy’, was a part of the now famous Battle of Long Tan and will be represented by actor Lasarus Ratuere in the upcoming film.

Born in Rockhampton, he moved to Bowen where he grew up with his family of nine brothers, five sisters and mother and father.

He enlisted in the Army in 1960 at age 20, and fought in the Vietnam War where he found himself in the battle of his life.

REMEMBERING THEM: Thomas 'Buddy' Lea at an ANZAC Day ceremony wearing his medals.

REMEMBERING THEM: Thomas ‘Buddy’ Lea at an ANZAC Day ceremony wearing his medals. Contributed

On August 18 1966, Mr Lea was a section commander patrolling with the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment’s D Company in a rubber tree plantation in Long Tan, Vietnam.

In what is now known as one of Australia’s most famous battles, 108 Australian diggers encountered and fought against a regiment of up to 2500 North Vietnamese soldiers in the torrential rain and mud for four hours.

When the Viet Cong withdrew at nightfall they left behind 245 dead, but carried away many more casualties.

In total, 17 Australians were killed in the battle and 25 wounded.

Mr Lea was shot three times in the battle as he attempted to pull a mate to safety.

He spent six months in hospital recovering after the incident and afterwards said he “will never know to this day how we all did not get killed”.

It is this battle that is detailed in the new movie, set for release on August 8.

CHECK IT OUT: The poster for 'Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan' which opens at cinemas on August 8.

CHECK IT OUT: The poster for ‘Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan’ which opens at cinemas on August 8. Contributed

Desmond Lea, a younger brother of Mr Lea, said that the family were honoured to see him represented on the big screen.

“Everyone knew Buddy, he had an infectious laugh that you could only connect to him,” Mr Lea said.

“He was a great guy and a very proud veteran. Our family is really happy that he has had this recognition in such a large movie.”

Mr Lea said that his brother, who unfortunately passed away of lung cancer complications in 2014, played an important role to many.

He said his appearance on the front of a local phone book was an example of his influence.

“He lived in Hervey Bay. They reached out in 2010 to his superior in the Battle of Long Tan, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, to be on the front cover of a phone book, Mr Lea said.

“He turned around and said ‘I’ll do it, but not without Buddy too.”

“He was that kind of guy, he just left an impression on people.”

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith said that Mr Lea was one of the bravest soldiers he had encountered.

“He was an excellent soldier. He was very brave and one of the most loyal people I’ve ever come across,” Lt Col Smith said.

“He was the happiest person who lit up any room.”

The movie is an entirely independent Australian film, which according to the director Kriv Stenders has been made “for the Vietnam Veterans and their families”.

Mr Lea said that he hadn’t seen the movie yet, but family members who had viewed early screenings said “it was very good.”