Keith Payne passes his VC to war memorial

Keith Payne has handed his Victoria Cross and other medals to the Australian War Memorial where they will be displayed with three others from Vietnam.

For a brave old soldier who once pondered selling his Victoria Cross because it was sending him broke, Keith Payne fought back a tear when the time finally came to part with his medals.

That moment came on Wednesday when he handed the lot to the Australian War Memorial.

They will be displayed with the three other VCs awarded to Australians in Vietnam, all his mates and all long passed.

There's "Dasher" Wheatley's VC. They played football together. Then Peter Badcoe and Ray "Simmo" Simpson, both army colleagues.

"Yes, it is emotional," he said.

Mr Payne, 80, won his VC in South Vietnam in May, 1969. A member of the Australian Army Training Team, he was leading a unit of 100 South Vietnamese soldiers when they were attacked by a larger force of North Vietnamese. Regularly exposing himself to enemy fire, he gathered remnants of his unit into a defensive position.

Then as night fell, he returned alone to earlier positions, recovering wounded plus some 40 lost soldiers that he led to safety.

His memories of this remain very vivid.

"I try and, where possible, put them at the back of my head and forget about them," he said.

In a 2005 interview, he said he and others were astonished they were still alive.

"It still amazes me how much ammunition can be thrown your way and you don't get hit," he said.

So what does he say now to those who call him a hero?

"I say thank you very much."

Until the award of VCs to soldiers from Afghanistan, Mr Payne was mostly on his own in carrying our VC winner duties.

The constant round of travel and events was costly and official assistance was modest. So in 2006 he floated the idea of selling his medals, then easily worth more than $1 million.

He explained his plight to then army chief Ken Gillespie, who fixed it.

"I do believe we have overcome that problem now," he said.

Mr Payne's medals present a logistical challenge for the war memorial. Along with the VC, there are 22 other medals awarded in a quarter century of army service and not that much room for them to be displayed.

War memorial director Brendan Nelson thinks it is a problem worth having.

"It is one of the largest medal collections awarded to any Australian and, indeed, I understand almost the largest collection in the Commonwealth," he said.

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