Two Australian veterans receive prestigious US Silver Star award for valour

By Charlotte Gore

Macaulay Cottrell (left) and the son of the late Kevin Wheatley, George, (right) were presented with the Silver Stars at a ceremony at the US Embassy.(ABC News: Craig Allen)


Two Australian veterans have been awarded the third-highest military combat decoration from the United States, one posthumously, for their service to the US in the Vietnam War.

Key points:

  • Late Warrant Officer Kevin Wheatley and retired Group Captain Macaulay Cottrell received Silver Star awards for valour
  • The Silver Star is one of the highest military combat awards in the US, with only six Australian recipients
  • Group Captain Cottrell and late Warrant Officer Wheatley were both nominated for the award over 50 years ago, but only just became official recipients

Late Warrant Officer Kevin Wheatley and retired Group Captain Macaulay Cottrell were each awarded a Silver Star for valour in combat while serving with US military units in the 1960s.

Group Captain Cottrell was awarded the honour for his service as a Flying Officer in 1968, directing an aircraft in dangerous weather and under fire to identify areas in need of combat support missions.

Warrant Officer Wheatley received his Silver Star for his leadership in the charge against a Viet Cong village in 1965.

Mr Wheatley was also awarded a Victoria Cross posthumously in 1967 for his service in the Vietnam War for a separate act that cost his life. His son, George Wheatley, has now accepted both awards on his father’s behalf.

US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Michael Goldman presented the medals to Group Captain Cottrell and Warrant Officer Wheatley’s son, emphasising that the award honoured the “remarkable acts of service” of the two men.

“Group Captain Cottrell and Warrant Officer Wheatley are being recognised for their actions during the Vietnam conflict while serving with US military units. Both officers illustrated remarkable bravery and sacrifice,” he said.

Group Captain Cottrell said receiving a Silver Star brought back memories of those he served alongside.

“It is a great honour to accept this award from the US government,” he said.

“I’m just thankful that I’m still here. Some people weren’t so lucky.

“It brings back memories of all the guys I flew with, worked with, helped.”

Recognition more than 50 years on

George Wheatley said his father should have been given his Silver Star sooner, but defence policy meant he remained a nominee, not a recipient, until now.

US officers recommended Warrant Officer Wheatley for the Silver Star 56 years ago, but because of a longstanding ban on Australians receiving foreign medals, it took until now for him to be officially recognised.

“This has been 56 years since Dad was recommended for [a Silver Star],” Mr Wheatley said.

“It’s wonderful for Mum because it’s not an end to Dad’s story, but it’s an end to one chapter in Dad’s life.”

Group Captain Cottrell also had to wait more than 50 years to officially get his Silver Star, but said finally receiving it was a privilege.

“After 53 years, it’s a great honour,” he said.

“We weren’t able to accept it back in the 60s when we came home from Vietnam, but it’s a really great privilege.”

Mr Wheatley said the Silver Star award ceremony was a much happier celebration of his father’s life than when he accepted the Victoria Cross on his behalf.

“When I received that Victoria Cross I was 13, it was a sombre occasion then. I was proud of it, but it was sombre,” he said.

“I think the best thing about today is Dad’s great-grandchildren are here. They go to the marches [and] they hear about their grandfather.

“Some of the girls are only seven or eight, they marched for their great-grandfather, and they were so excited to be here today.”

Mr Goldman said the mateship offered by Australians to the American armed forces was remembered and valued highly by the United States.

“The service and sacrifice of our Australian counterparts is not lost on us, nor is the camaraderie and mateship we have long found in you”, he said.

“The US-Australia Alliance, and the strong democratic values at its core, is an anchor for peace and stability in the region.”

Mr Goldman said these qualities were evident in both Group Captain Cottrell and Warrant Officer Wheatley.

“[The Alliance] will continue to deliver for Australians, Americans, and our friends and partners throughout the world,” he said.

“It will do so because of men and women like Group Captain Cottrell and Warrant Officer Wheatley, who we have the honour of recognising today.”


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