Leonard Murray OPIE DCM, ED

OPIE, Leonard Murray

Service Numbers: 439150, SX27984, 4400006
Enlisted: 6 January 1942
Last Rank: Major
Last Unit: Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV)
Born: Snowtown, South Australia, 23 December 1923
Home Town: Medindie, Walkerville, South Australia
Schooling: St. Peter's College, Adelaide
Occupation: Soldier, Book and Maps vendor
Died: Natural causes, Adelaide, South Australia, 22 September 2008, aged 84 years
Cemetery: North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, South Australia
Row 37 South West Side
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World War 2 Service

6 Jan 1942: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN 439150
6 Jan 1942: Enlisted Private, SN SX27984, Woodside, South Australia
7 Jan 1942: Involvement Private, SN SX27984
7 Jan 1942: Involvement SN 4400006
18 Jun 1946: Discharged Private, SN SX27984, 2nd/14th Infantry Battalion

Korean War Service

28 Sep 1950: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Warrant Officer Class 2, SN 4400006
28 Sep 1950: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Warrant Officer Class 2, SN 4400006, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR)
27 Feb 1951: Honoured Distinguished Conduct Medal
4 Nov 1952: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Warrant Officer Class 2, SN 4400006

Vietnam War Service

1 May 1966: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Captain, SN 439150, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), Australian Army Training Team Operations - Vietnam
12 May 1966: Involvement SN 439150
13 Nov 1967: Involvement SN 439150

Peacekeeping Service

28 Oct 1968: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Captain, SN 439150, UNMOGIP - United Nations Military Observer Group India / Pakistan

Vietnam War Service

16 Apr 1970: Involvement SN 439150
30 Apr 1970: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Captain, SN 439150, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), Australian Army Training Team Operations - Vietnam
31 Dec 1974: Promoted Australian Army (Post WW2), Major

Non Warlike Service

23 Dec 1975: Discharged Australian Army (Post WW2), Major

A Warrior Died Today

‘A warrior died today’ was how the ex-service community was told of the recent passing of one of the legends of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, Major Len Opie, DCM. At his funeral, at Centennial Park in suburban Adelaide, hundreds of mourners their respects to one of Australia’s great combat soldiers. Representation included strong contingents from the AATTV Association, the RAR Association, the Army Reserve community and the SA Peacekeepers sub-branch of the RSL.
Len is remembered through the trophy contested annually by the Royal Australian Regiment which features an M1 carbine, one of the six weapons he used in winning his Distinguished Conduct Medal at Hill 614 with 3RAR in Korea in February 1951. Brigadier (ret) Laurie Lewis delivered a most fitting eulogy, describing Len as a “Son of Sparta” who spent eight and half years on operational service in three wars and a major peacekeeping operation. He was revered by his colleagues in the AATTV, and numerous anecdotes painted the picture of a courageous, determined and ruthless fighting soldier, contrasting with his family’s recollections of a mild mannered, thoughtful and doting uncle.
Remarkably, Len was never a Regular soldier; he cherished his status as a CMF soldier throughout his career. In between wars he variously ran a bookshop and later the Map Shop in Adelaide.
He was remembered in Adelaide’s Messenger newspaper by journalist Andrew Faulkner;
LEN Opie was a gentle man, fond of model railways, endless cups of tea and his little dog Sally.
He was also a born warrior.
Opie was a master infantryman who plied his deadly art on battlefields in New Guinea, Borneo, Korea, Vietnam and (as an observer) in Kashmir over a period spanning 30 years.
He died peacefully in hospital on September 22, aged 84.
He will be remembered as a man of great honour who could not abide racism or mistreatment of prisoners, and who did not stand idle when his fellow soldiers transgressed the conventions of war. His courage in battle was matched by his fearlessness in challenging his superiors when he thought they were wrong. These high personal ideals were both a strength and a weakness. He expected much from his comrades because he could do things others could not.
Opie enlisted at 18 and in 1942 was posted to the 2/14th Infantry Battalion of Kokoda Track fame.
He quickly learnt much from the veterans of this elite and much decorated infantry unit.
He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross, for leading an attack that seized Hill 614 in Korea in February 1951.
``I was having a cup of cocoa in the morning when the platoon commander said 'Come on, we're having a go at this hill'," Opie said earlier this year.
``The colonel said, 'I want you to nudge along but I don't want you to get into any trouble'."
Typically, Opie laughed at the order, realising the almost hopeless task ahead. He then led his section up the fortified hill and eliminated the enemy posts one-by-one. He used grenades, an Owen sub-machinegun, a .303 rifle and two captured Chinese weapons to overwhelm a superior defending force.
Opie served two tours of Korea and three more with the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam.
A fortnight before his death he was all but mobbed by adoring Australian troops embarking for Afghanistan from Darwin when he farewelled them as a guest of the Australian Government.
Opie returned to his Mitcham home a happy man.

Credit: Andrew Faulkner for Messenger Community News.

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This entry is a work in progress.  We are arranging with AMOSA to have his medal set photographed and explained for inclusion together with the citation for his Distinguished Conduct Medal and foreign decorations.  Thanks to AMOSA and researcher John Claxton for content support.

In his own words........extract of an Australian Film Archive interview 2004.

Leonard Opie
2/14th Infantry Battalion
3 RAR - K Force
Date Interviewed: 23 January, 2004
Tape 1

Q: Leonard, thanks very much for talking to the Archive. Perhaps we could start of with a summary of your life and we could start off with where you were born and when?

A: I was born in Snowtown which is north of Adelaide in 1923. My father was a bank manager and every six years we moved. So we moved to Minlaton, then we came to Adelaide, then I went to school at St. Peters. I left school at the end of 1940/41 and joined the Army in July '42 and I was 18 at the time. I couldn't join the AIF [Australian Imperial Forces] until I was 19, then when I became 19 I joined the AIF. Eventually I joined the 2/14th Battalion just before they went to New Guinea the second time and we served in the Markham Ramu Valley.

Q: Which division was that?

A: 7th Division, 21 Brigade. Then we came home in '43 and we had leave. Then we went up to the Atherton Tablelands and we stayed there until we went to Borneo via Morotai. We landed at Balikpapan on the July 1st 1945 and at the end of the war our units were being declared redundant.

The Brigadier was going over to accept the Japanese second army surrender in Makasar in what was then South West Celebes, now Sulawesi. I went over with him as his interpreter. I was over there for five months and I came home in March 1946, was discharged.

I joined up again in August 1950, for Korea. I served two tours in Korea. In between times I was an instructor back in Australia and then I got out in 1953. I joined the CMF [Citizen Military Forces] in 1958, went full time in 1959, served two and a half years in Vietnam and then I went to Kashmir, with the United Nations as a military observer 1969/70; and I went back to Vietnam for another year.

Then I was discharged and I went to the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra for two and a half years and Mr [Prime Minister] Whitlam gave me my birthday present, the sack [job dismissal]. I was sacked when I went to ordinary CMF and I had a civilian life from then on. I was manager of a map company, selling maps for 15 years and I retired in 1989.

http://www.australiansatwarfilmarchive.gov.au/aawfa/interviews/998.aspx (www.australiansatwarfilmarchive.gov.au) Full interview


Reproduced below is the speech made by Mr Micheal Pengilly, MP, Member for Finnis in the SA Parliament 14th October 2008 to mark the passing of Major Len Opie

Tuesday, 14 October 2008  

Mr PENGILLY (Finniss) (15:38): I will read some extracts from the funeral eulogy of Leonard Murray Opie, retired major, DCM, ED. Leonard Murray Opie was born in Snowtown South Australia on 23 December 1923. Len's first taste of the army began with school cadets at St Peters College in 1938. The military record for Private Opie states that he enlisted at Woodside South Australia on 6 January 1942 and went to New Guinea. In September 1943, Len's overseas service commenced on TS Duntroon to Port Moresby.

His service continued from Port Moresby to Nabzab to Markham and Ramu Valleys, Kaiapit, Palliarer's Hill and Dumpu. In 1945, by then promoted to corporal, Len travelled by troopship to Morotai, then Balikpapan. Len learnt Japanese guarding Japanese prisoners of war. Just how he became an interpreter at Macassa for the Japanese war trials is still a mystery, but Len was employed that way until the war trials finished in August 1945. 

Len's first real peacetime work commenced with the Adelaide Steamship Company in Port Adelaide. Corporal Opie then re-enlisted and arrived in Korea on 28 September 1950 with the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. During the night of 27 February 1951 (as the Attorney indicated), Len was part of an assault where his unselfish devotion to duty, initiative and a great courage resulted in his being awarded the distinguished conduct medal. Corporal Temporary Warrant Officer Opie returned to Australia on 19 October 1951. He then returned to Korea with 3 RAR in November 1952 and served there until 3 June 1953. Len served a total of 598 days in Korea. On 24 March 1954, at Government House, Adelaide, Her Majesty the Queen presented Len with his DCM. Len thought that that being presented by the Queen was a bit of all right. 

He joined the CMF and, on 14 October 1958, Len was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 43/48 Battalion Royal South Australian Regiment. On 15 September 1964, Len was promoted to captain. The Vietnam War gave Captain Opie another chance to display his military skills and, in May 1966, Len was posted to the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam. Initially Len served with the CSD (CIA), until September 1967, when he returned to Australia. Following discussion with the Infantry Directorate in December 1968 whilst still in Vietnam, Len was directed to take some time away from the war. Len was not happy about this but was able to reach a compromise when he returned, on 15 October 1968, to Australia.

Less than two weeks later, on 28 October 1968, he was posted to the United Nations Military Observer Group India and Pakistan where he served in Kashmir as a military observer. Following 12 months in Kashmir, Len returned to Australia, took some leave owing to him and was then posted to the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra as an instructor. This stint was short lived, with Len being posted back to Vietnam in April 1970 (again at his own request). Captain Opie's service in Vietnam concluded in late 1971. He had spent 41 months on active service in that country.

One of Len's quirks was his insistence in wearing the infantry corps hat badge. Len was fully entitled to wear the regimental 'Skippy' badge, but he claimed that the RAR units that he served in were Regular Army units and that he never served in the Regular Army (always AIF or CMF, most of the time on full-time duty). The dress of the day for daytime was jungle greens, with peak caps for officers and warrant officers. The night-time dress was polyesters with ribbon bar. Len had a very dry and highly tuned sense of humour. 

Many of the other instructors during Len's time there used to keep a close eye on the students. It was obvious to the instructors that the students would look at this relatively ancient infantry officer, Len, who to their mind must have been in the army for 100 years or more and had never served in the Royal Australian Regiment. Crunch time came during the first night lecture when the students saw Len in his polys with three and a half rows of ribbons topped by a DCM. It stunned me when I saw it as well. Students' jaws would drop and from there on there was a distinct change of attitude towards this venerable soldier.

Captain Opie's CMF full-time duty service was terminated on his 50th birthday, on 23 December 1973. However, Len continued to served in the CMF. On 24 December 1973, he was posted to 10 RSAR. Then on 31 December 1974 Len was promoted to major. On 1 January 1975, he was posted to CSTU (4MD) as an instructor. On 23 December 1975, Major Len Opie was transferred to retired list (4MD).

The Attorney-General eloquently portrayed a great part of Len Opie's life. I join with the Attorney in that. I had the pleasure of knowing Len, having met him several times. He was an amazing man who was quiet and unassuming, as indicated. He had 19 medals and was entitled to wear another three. More of a gentleman you could not find and he is a sad loss to Australia. 



Steve Larkins Feb 2014